MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Piki Films
On DVD and Blu-Ray; Streaming on Hulu Plus; Rent from iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, Fandango Now, Microsoft Store and VUDU.
Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Sam Neill, Rima Te Wiata
Instead of reviewing Thor: Ragnarok, an enjoyable comedy without much on its mind except to make you laugh, I am going to try to persuade you to rent last year’s delightful Hunt for the Wilderpeople directed by Taika Waititi, the New Zealand filmmaker who brought his wacky sensibilities to the latest Thor film.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fantasy of sorts, but it is the kind of fairytale that would bless the world if it were true. Told in a series of chapters that promise adventure at every turn, the story begins with Children’s Services depositing Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), an almost-thirteen-year-old “real bad egg”, with his new foster family living on the outskirts of the New Zealand wilderness. While foster mom Bella (Te Wiata) accepts him with open arms, her husband Hec (Neill) wants little to do with the boy.
Ricky has had a hard life and covers up his insecurities by assuming a hiphop gangsta attitude. He wears a Tupac jacket and also delights in writing haiku, since the word count and subject matter provide him with a creative challenge.
While the officers from Children’s Services treat Ricky as a problem child, Bella sees the potential in the boy and lets him know that he is accepted just as he is. Ricky is given a birthday party and a dog to take care of (Ricky names him Tupac).
Life takes an unexpected turn for this new family and, fearful for his future, Ricky runs away into the wilderness with Tupac at his side. Hec begrudgingly tracks the boy down, but an injury delays their return. Eventually the two find themselves on the run from children’s services and the police. They run as wild as the wildebeest; they are the wilderpeople.
The film surprises you at every turn, including a hellfire and brimstone funeral sermon that is undone by unexpected calls and responses, quirky local characters, and pop culture references that include Tupac Shakur, The Lord of the Rings and SNL’s Debbie Downer. Filmed in the lush beauty of New Zealand, it is hard not to respond to the natural wonder of it all – if you can stay away from the wild warthogs.
All of the actors are great, taking what could have become stereotypical roles and finding nuance and depth. Ricky Baker becomes the hero he always hoped that he would be, simply by being accepted as he is and challenged to become more. Although religion is gently teased in this film, grace and forgiveness are everywhere. If you were dusting this movie for fingerprints, you would find the hands of Christ.
Four halos: A bighearted film about family, nature and second chances.
Two pitchforks: A bit of swearing throughout; some violent scenes, involving the death of animals wild and domestic.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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