June 18th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Deregulation cause of dairy industry crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED Double-dissolution election likely to deliver disillusionment

EDITORIAL Turnbull keeps his smile as all around lose theirs

LIFE ISSUES Infant viability fails to wake upper house interest

GLOBAL ECONOMY A generation left to twiddle its thumbs

LOCAL GOVERNMENT Amateur hour at the Brisbane City Council

EUTHANASIA Too quick a leap to counsel of despair

CULTURE WARS Australia Council cuts funding to Quadrant

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay "marriage" and the given in human procreative behaviour (Part 2)

FEDERAL ELECTION How to ensure your Senate vote goes all the way

PHILOSOPHY John Haldane holds true to faith-reason nexus

HISTORY The Chinese in Australia: not the story you've heard

MUSIC The times it takes to reach eternity

CINEMA Madcap adventures in the Kiwi bush: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

BOOK REVIEW The curate's egg

BOOK REVIEW That other great Irish prelate


 A day in the life of a religious white man from the point of view of evidence and truth

Books promotion page

Madcap adventures in the Kiwi bush: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, June 18, 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a madcap and heartfelt comic adventure full of colourful characters and beautiful landscapes that manages to entertain while still touching on some heavy issues. From its opening, as the camera soars over the mountains and forests, with a rhythmic a cappella piece, the scene is set for a story both realistic and in some sense mythic.

Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker

Ricky Baker (a brilliant Julian Dennison) is a “real bad egg”, according to his child welfare social worker, Paula Hall (Rachel House). He’s got a history of “spitting, breaking stuff, stealing stuff, burning stuff, defacing stuff, graffitiing, loitering, running away and that’s just the stuff we know about”. He’s been in and out of foster homes his entire life and now, just before he turns 13, he’s got one last chance.

Ricky’s been taken in by “Aunt” Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and her husband, “Don’t call me Uncle” Hector/Hec (Sam Neill). They live on an isolated rural property next to the New Zealand bush, a place so remote there’s no mobile phone coverage, much to the horror of the young fella.

Bella’s a cheery no-nonsense countrywoman, tough but with a heart of gold, who is delighted to take in the little, well not so little, misfit. Her response to him running away, and getting 200 metres from the house before falling asleep, is to laugh and suggest he have some breakfast before trying again. Hec’s a man of few words, a gruff and grumpy bushman with “the knack”, who just wants to be left alone, and doesn’t know what to make of the chubby city kid who wants to be a “gangsta”.

All is going well when tragedy strikes. In its aftermath Ricky makes for the bush in a determined attempt to escape the clutches of child welfare services. Unsurprisingly, he gets badly lost. Hec finds him, but fractures his ankle as he tries to get him to come back. As a result the two are forced to camp for a few weeks.

As soon as it improves they make their way to a ranger’s hut, only to discover that they are the subjects of a manhunt. When some hunters try to take them by force, they escape back into the bush, living off what they can find and evading the authorities.

By turns comic and tragic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a superb film, brilliantly adapted and updated by writer-director Taika Waititi from Barry Crump’s best-selling novel, Wild Pork and Watercress. Crump was an old-fashioned outdoorsman, one who’d worked as a professional hunter and knew how to live off the land. He was an environmentalist, of the kind whose attitude to the natural world comes from first-hand experience rather than comfortable theorising. His writing has a laconic quality that, as Waititi rightly points out, is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway, but with more humour.

The movie is masterfully crafted, easily switching between broad and absurd humour and deeply touching pathos. It could easily have been a serious drama about the plight of unwanted children and an uncaring machine-like bureaucracy or a lightweight comedy about a mismatched odd couple. Instead, it manages to blend the two in a way that brings to mind Pixar’s intense and beautiful Up. Much like that film, the protagonists are on the edge of a society that doesn’t know what to do with them, and their adventures have a touch of the fantastical to them.

Waititi has made a film that is artistic without being bogged down in its artistry, deftly adopting a wide range of cinematic techniques in the service of the story. The cinematography beautifully captures the lush New Zealand bush, contrasting it with the grey sterility of the urban landscape. The editing is sharp, but understated, only becoming showy in a few of the clever, almost surreal, montages. The soundtrack makes good use of electronica and popular songs and was inspired by the scores of Aussie and Kiwi films made in the 1980s.

The performances are excellent, veering between the nuanced – in the form of Hec, Bella and Ricky – and the more outrageous, such as crazed conspiracy theorist Pscyho Sam (Rhys Darby) and especially the “relentless” Paula – “I’m like the Terminator” – who seems to be channeling every cliche of the obsessive lawman. There are no real villains, but plenty of fools.

Above all, this is an engaging and enjoyable film, one that leaves the audience with a smile when they leave the cinema. It exhibits the best qualities of regional moviemaking with its ability to mix seriousness and humour without compromising either, making good use of local colour without being unintelligible for non-locals. It tells a good tale, one that’s intelligent and broadly suitable for the whole family, and one that’s full of surprises.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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