Hunt For The Wilderpeople: Film Review
Cast: Julian Dennison, Sam Neill, Rachel House, Rhys Darby
Director: Taika Waititi
Turning Barry Crump's novel "Wild Pork and Watercress" into a distinctly family film populated with quintessentially quirky Kiwi characters, future Thor Ragnarok director Taika Waititi has got a guaranteed hit on his hands (and one which has already taken Sundance by storm).
It's the story of Ricky Baker (the charmingly cheeky but eminently human Julian Dennison), a wannabe chubby gangster whose ping-ponging between foster carers lands him at the remote farm of overly enthusiastic Brenda (Housebound's Rima Te Wiata) and gruff bushman Uncle Hec (Sam Neill).
But tragedy strikes, and the authorities (led by Rachel House's stuffily up-herself Child Welfare member Paula) decide that Ricky's future lies back in foster care. However, Ricky doesn't want that and so goes on the run in the bush - inadvertently teaming up with Hec and sparking a nationwide man-hunt, under the belief Hec's kidnapped him and gone mad...
In Hunt For The Wilderpeople, Waititi's crafted something that will have a broad family appeal.
Essentially light in touch, but with obligatory yet subtle moments of sentiment and drama, Hunt for the Wilderpeople hits the right tone from the start.
Meshing comedy with Waititi's trademark quick cuts proves to be the killer intro to Julian Dennison's soon to be Kiwi icon Ricky Baker.
But as well as injecting Dennison's character with some brilliant quips, Waititi's smart enough to ensure this kid has moments of realism and sadness bubbling under. A thread about fostering and the effects on others simmers quietly and sadly underneath, appearing when least expected but never manipulated for emotional effect, ensuring that the melancholy subtlety touches hit with tragic-effect.
Dennison steals every scene he's in, landing each moment with a self-assuredness that's frighteningly good. Equally, Sam Neill's gruff Uncle Hec captures many a truism and a down bush Kiwi approach that will win over many audiences both locally and internationally. It's their straight roles which impress in a world of bush buffoonery.
And that's where the strengths of Hunt For The Wilderpeople lie - its broadness and universality. Waititi's pulled together a piece that revels among the quirk of the Kiwi characters but keeps it reined in so that it's not totally a cartoonish piece. It's a cross between The Fugitive, The Revenant and Thelma and Louise but with heart and humour and through the prism of Taika Waititi.
However, Hunt for The Wilderpeople, even though it's drawn from Barry Crump's source material (and even plays on one of his infamous lines about how things are about to get bumpy) is resolutely Taika's film. The scale of it is genius and while a car chase at the end is essentially classic farce, Taika delivers the chaos of it with a clarity and an assuredness that never loses sight of the action. It's a sign that this director is drawing deep and delivering bigger, which promises great things for Thor's latest outing. Equally, there's a montage sequence which will have used some digital trickery but essentially folds all elements of various groups chasing Hec and Ricky into one rotating diorama tapestry and it's dizzyingly exciting and clever.
In among the riotous set pieces and the broad comedy, there's tremendous heart in Hunt For the Wilderpeople.
Buoyed by two great lead performances, it's destined to become another classic at the local box office and may even surpass the success of Boy in our affections - no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination.