Violence In Once Were Warriors

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The violence in Once Were Warriors (Fine Line, R), a tumultuous domestic drama from New Zealand, erupts with terrifying suddenness. It seems to be happening everywhere you look – in a rowdy, warehouse-size bar, where the sight of a bully smashing heads on the floor is greeted as a raffish diversion, or at a youth gang’s squalid meeting ground, where the new members undergo a sadomasochistic initiation ritual of being kicked and punched. Most cataclysmically, violence happens in the cramped, dingy home of the Hekes, a Maori family living under the shadow of its hard-souled patriarch, the monstrous charmer Jake (Temuera Morrison), a man capable of wooing his wife, Beth (Rena Owen), with verbal caresses one moment and beating her to a pulp the next. Set in a tumbledown Maori ghetto of contemporary New Zealand, Once Were Warriors induces a dizzying state of moral shock. At first, we’re stunned by the savagery of what we’re seeing; then we begin to anticipate it. What continues to grip us, though, is the vision of a macho-mystical, urban-tribal subculture – a culture in which physical aggression is so omnipresent, so woven into the texture of daily experience, that it’s practically the prime expression of human bonding. Adapted from a novel by Alan Duff, Once Were Warriors was directed by Lee Tamahori, a veteran of New Zealand TV commercials, and in scene after scene you can feel him turning up the movie’s blowtorch intensity. Tamahori has a visually propulsive melodramatic style
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