The latest film from New Zealand director, Taika Waititi, is now officially the highest-grossing local film ever released in New Zealand – and with good reason.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a witty crowd-pleaser, showcasing the north island’s spectacular scenery as well as Sam Neill’s prodigious and marvellously understated acting talent, writes Pamela Connellan.
Based on a story by the late New Zealand novelist, Barry Crump, the film delivers a different approach to Waititi’s previous films.
While it’s still irreverent, Hunt for the Wilderpeople takes a warmer more humane approach. It’s about a young orphan called Ricky (Julian Dennison), a hip-hop loving troublemaker who’s badly in need of a new foster home to avoid being sent off to juvenile lockup.
Bella (Rima Te Wiata) takes him under her wing and her husband, Uncle Hec (Sam Neill) goes along with it. As the film unravels, tragedy strikes and Uncle Hec and Ricky are thrown together, ending up on the run in the wild New Zealand bush.
The film then takes a turn and becomes a madcap, crazy manhunt with lots of action. It is both a salute to – and a good natured sendup – of some of New Zealand’s earlier classic films.
In among all this mayhem, there are some classic cameo performances including Rachel House as Paula – an over-zealous child-services worker who seems to think she’s the star of the latest ‘Whodunnit’. She delivers some hilarious lines alongside her deadpan offsider, Officer Andy (Oscar Knightley).
Relative newcomer Dennison stars as Ricky, the young troublemaker. He works well alongside Neill and brings a lot of humour to the role in this, his third Kiwi feature.
It goes without saying that Neill is superb in this gift of a role as the laconic and gruff mountain man. Neill plays Uncle Hec with understated and gritty style, giving the film a strong, grounded base. The other actors are like highlights to this base and it’s clear it wouldn’t all come together half as well, without Neill’s strong performance.
In essence, the relationship between Uncle Hec and Ricky give the film its heart. And towards the end of the film, as things get a bit unrealistic and farcical, we never lose interest because we’re so strongly engaged with these characters.
The film uses comedy and pathos to drive home its message about what a family really is. It’s really no surprise the flick is the highest-grossing film ever in New Zealand. It’s serious and funny at the same time, attempting to please everyone and delivering the goods.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is in cinemas nationally now.