In 1994 relatively unknown New Zealand based director Lee Tamahori made Once Were Warriors.
A haunting drama centred around a group of native Maori's, Once Were Warriors is one of New Zealand's most respected films and set Tamahori into a career in Hollywood were he went on to direct a group of relatively forgettable films such as Die Another Day and The Edge, but after 20 plus years plying his trade in the land of dreams and big budgets, Tamahori has returned to the beautiful shores of his homeland to helm quiet family drama Mahana, that in turn reteams him with his Warriors breakout star Temuera Morrison.
Here playing the Mahana family matriarch, the Mahana's a group of farmers in 1960's New Zealand, Morrison still cuts an imposing figure but like the film itself, his granddaddy Mahana just isn't as fully formed and memorable as Mahana the film could've so easily been and while this handsomely crafted drama attempts the epic, this is more middle of the range than Tamahori's home country return would've initially seemed to be on paper.
All the hallmarks of a captivating family drama are here, from the young teenage centrepiece Simeon, here played by Akuhata Keefe who doesn't exactly engage to the level needed, the 1960's settings, family mysteries and tensions between rival farming families but Mahana always feels like a glass half-full experience and while there's emotional material at the core of this tale, Tamahori and his cast can't make the audience commit to proceedings like Once Were Warriors so easily did.
One thing that is for sure however is that Mahana absolutely looks stunning, it'd certainly take a fair effort to make the natural surrounds of New Zealand look anything but wondrous but Tamahori is clearly relishing the chance to get back on home soil and showcase the vast and plenteous lands of this magical country and the 60's time period allows things to look even more appealing as the audience is transported back to a time and place where nature was still king.
Final Say –
It's great to see Tamahori back home and once more working with the underrated Morrison and it's especially nice to see Tamahori step away from forgettable Hollywood actioners but while Mahana has all the elements of a potential new classic NZ based drama you can't help but feel this 90 minute film is just a slight cut above a made for TV experience that could've benefited greatly from a tighter script and a sharper execution, even if the backdrop of New Zealand makes for a constantly eye-capturing tale, just not one that captures the heart.
3 interrupted cinema screenings out of 5
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