Owing something to Fred Schepisi’s Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978), this is a powerful period drama which plays like a New Zealand Western film.
Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is a Maori tracker serving with the colonial British Army who finds his family massacred by some of its rogue elements and vows “utu” – Maori for “retribution”.
He then raises a rebel army of marauders and goes in for a spot of payback, tearing up and down the countryside owned and protected by whites
Meanwhile, enlisted by the blowhard Colonel Elliot (Tim Elliott), Lieutenant Scott (Kelly Johnson), a white New Zealander, is asked to apply his tactical experience of guerrilla warfare. In the course of his pursuit, he falls in love with the Maori Kura (Tania Bristowe) before Wheke murders her, creating another utu.
In the end, another British-employed Maori tracker named Wiremu (Wi Kuki Kaa) kills Te Wheke in a ritual fratricide, the likes of which are not often imagined outside Shakespearean adaptations.
Admirably representing the true Maori uprisings that forever changed New Zealand, Utu is the fictionalised account of perhaps the only successful indigenous resistance to British colonisation.
Action-packed yet poignant, the film was made by Geoff Murphy, director of the equally excellent Kiwi film The Quiet Earth (1985), and of efficient Hollywood sequels Under Siege 2 and Young Guns 2.
One of the best ever to come over from “Down Under”.
Wi Kuki Kaa