In ONCE WERE WARRIORS, an oppressed, working-class family of Maori New Zealanders is ripped apart by the brutality of the father, the prejudice of society and their own character flaws. Because this well-made but violence-laden movie deals with some of humanity's ugliest behavior, it is not for most people.
Set in the Maori slums of modern-day Auckland, New Zealand, ONCE WERE WARRIORS is the grim story of the working-class Heke family. Husband Jake is an out-of-work drinker. Wife Beth is stubbornly trying to raise her five children in a benighted slum set in an oppressive society. She is not having much luck: eldest son Nig has joined a gang of Maori toughs; second son Boogie has been sent to juvenile hall; daughter Gracie seems to have the best chance but ends up killing herself after being raped. The two youngest are increasingly lost. Ultimately, shocked by her daughter’s suicide, Beth pulls herself together, summons her ancestral Maori pride, dumps her violently abusive husband, and gathers the rest of her family together for a new start in life.
ONCE WERE WARRIORS is a hard, wrenching yet heart-tugging film filled with explosive situations, violent behavior and ugly language that inevitably cause the audience cringe. However, it is not an entirely negative movie. Themes of freedom, responsibility and family love emerge triumphant at the end, despite a deserting father. The film is brilliantly put together, with excellent directing, writing, editing, cinematography, and acting. Nevertheless, because this movie deals with some of humanity’s ugliest behavior, it is not for the squeamish or the overly tender-hearted.
(NA, B, LLL, VVV, SS, A, D, M) Initially pagan but ultimately moral worldview in which abusive father shirks responsibilities & family is later rescued by relatives; 43 obscenities, 3 profanities & 51 vulgarities; repeated, violent fighting, wife beating, & rape; molestation & rape of 13-year-old; alcohol use resulting in drunkenness; drug use; and, gambling & suicide.