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Once Were Warriors (1994)

 -  Crime | Drama  -  3 March 1995 (USA)
8.0
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Ratings: 8.0/10 from 21,218 users  
Reviews: 265 user | 49 critic

A family descended from Maori warriors is bedeviled by a violent father and the societal problems of being treated as outcasts.

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Title: Once Were Warriors (1994)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
Taungaroa Emile ...
Rachael Morris Jr. ...
Joseph Kairau ...
...
Bully
Pete Smith ...
Dooley
George Henare ...
Bennett
Mere Boynton ...
Shannon Williams ...
Calvin Tuteao ...
Taka (Gang Leader)
Ray Bishop ...
King Hitter (in pub)
Ian Mune ...
Judge
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Storyline

Set in urban Auckland (New Zealand) this movie tells the story of the Heke family. Jake Heke is a violent man who beats his wife frequently when drunk, and yet obviously loves both her and his family. The movie follows a period of several weeks in the family's life showing Jake's frequent outburst of violence and the effect that this has on his family. The youngest son is in trouble with the police and may be put into a foster home while the elder son is about to join a street gang. Jake's daughter has her own serious problems which are a key element in the plot. Written by Chris Maslin <maslinc@cad.canterbury.ac.nz>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

new zealand | gang | maori | violence | police | See more »

Taglines:

A family in crisis, a life in chaos... Nothing is more powerful than a mother's love. See more »

Genres:

Crime | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for pervasive language and strong depiction of domestic abuse, including sexual violence and substance abuse | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Official Sites:

Country:

Language:

| |

Release Date:

3 March 1995 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Once Were Warriors  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Box Office

Gross:

$2,201,126 (USA)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

|

Color:

(Eastmancolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The building used for the interior and exterior courtroom shots is the main office and warehouse in New Zealand for Apple Computer's national distributor. Although the entrance has been remodeled and the reception area totally changed, the small wall tiles seen on the interior walls can still be found in what is now a cupboard under the (now-enclosed) staircase shown. See more »

Goofs

Blood disappears and reappears on Beth's chin. See more »

Quotes

Jake Heke: Tell Jakey you love him.
Beth Heke: That's the trouble Jake, I do.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Most of the opening credits are either split in half, scattered in different areas of the screen, abnormally shaped or used in small white print. Some are even mixed. See more »

Connections

References White Men Can't Jump (1992) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Beautifully acted, powerfully moving
15 October 2003 | by (California, USA) – See all my reviews

I don't know where to start. When I'm asked of my favorite movie ever, this is ALWAYS the first to come to mind. This is one of the finest movies I've ever seen, and I've seen too many to count.

Once Were Warriors is, at its most stripped, about a woman named Beth and her struggle to just do what's best for her family. She is of Maori heritage, New Zealand's sort of Native Americans. Culture is a proud and powerful aspect of the movie, as Beth's strengths lie in her devotion to her family and her heritage. But that is little comfort, as her daughter is struggling to accept adulthood, her youngest son is heading towards juvenile detention, and her oldest son is fast on his way to joining a brutal gang. Worst of all, her husband Jake is a heavy drinker.

The film excels at painting everybody in full 3 dimensions. Each of her kids are troubled, but they all have fierce love and respect for their mother. The gang is cruel to the oldest son, but at the same time embraces him. The juvenile detention center separates the youngest son from his only home, but instills in him a pride in his ancestry. And Jake himself is a beast, a man built like a tank who will destroy you with anything available should you spill his beer...but somehow he also comes across as loving Beth. Sometimes.

The film follows Beth as she does her best to hold the family together even while the various problems tear them apart. At the center is Jake's drinking and further carelessness of his family's dissipation. While Beth's answer is to nurture and aid her children, Jake insists it's best to drink away the problems and quit being so "soft" on the kids. And we watch, through it all, as the family spirals further apart. Near the end, after seeing both happy and horrible things happen to each of the characters, we are jarred by a terrible tragedy. Beth and Jake both deal with it uniquely, as she draws once again on the tremendous power of family and human spirit, while Jake deals with it his own way. The last 15 minutes of the film keep us in suspense as we wonder whether a certain horrible injustice will be confronted, and if so, how. This scenario involves and encapsulates everyone in the family, and who they are inside.

The last few moments of the movie made me want to jump to my feet and applaud. I won't reveal what happens, but in the last 5 minutes, every person shows so much inner strength that I glow with admiration for their actions. Especially those of Beth and her oldest son, whose interaction with Jake results in my favorite scene in the movie. But don't think you know what's going to happen based on this description -it's a complicated scenario. I felt satisfied with the conclusion on all fronts, and thought that each character showed exactly where their strength lies.

Be forewarned that this movie is very heartbreaking. Its overall tone is one of futility, of better lives not received, of wanting the best but never quite getting it. It is very raw and intense in its portrayal of physical and domestic violence, and the easily upset may have a hard time waiting to see if it ends happily enough for their tastes. But no matter what your opinion is, it will definitely be a film that stays with you for a long, long time. My highest recommendation.


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