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Film Review: Once Were Warriors

Updated on April 11, 2015

Once Were Warriors (Tamahori, 1994)

This dynamic drama shows the gritty life of a struggling Māori family in Auckland, New Zealand. The Heke family lives on the outskirts of society, more dependant on alcohol than stability. The head of the family, Jake, is on a downward spiral entrenched in the lifestyle of partying all night, bar fights and drinking too much. A charismatic if overbearing man, Jake (Temuera Morrison) sets the tone and it is a brutal one. His counterpart is Beth (Rena Owen) who tries to keep her family together, but she battles with her urges to drink and her love for Jake.

They have five children, but it is the eldest three that highlights the Hekes deficiencies. The eldest boy, Nig, joins a gang to find the love so lacking in his own family. Grace, the oldest girl, find sanctuary in gutted out cars with her homeless best friend, Toot. She reads to her other siblings and takes a parental role. The third is Boggie, a juvenile delinquent who finds himself in front of a judge very early on in the movie. The last two children are afterthoughts, not to the film, but to their parents who seem more interested in the lifestyle they’ve chosen than their children.

I won’t spoil the emotional twists and turns the Heke family puts you through. That is for you to enjoy when you watch this wonderful film. I will mention that this movie isn’t just about the hard life these people lead. It is about digging deep within to find strength, courage and faith. It is a glimpse into the dark side of the Māori culture and a reminder that it is similar to our own.

Fun Facts

  • The movie is based off a book by Alan Duff also called Once Were Warriors.
  • The character Boogie is loosely based on Duff and the Heke clan off of his mother's (Māori) side of the family.
  • The director, Lee Tamahori, went on to direct Die Another Day (2002) and xXx: State of the Union (2005)
  • Both Rena Owen (the voice of Taun We and Nee Alavar) and Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett and Commander Cody) had parts in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Neither played the same character twice!
  • These two also do voices for the Star Wars video games.
  • Julian Arahanga who plays Nig also played Apoc in The Matrix (1999, Wachowski)
  • The Sequel is called What Becomes of the Brokenhearted (Mune, 1999).


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    • vmartinezwilson profile image

      Vanessa Martinez Wilson 6 years ago from Vancouver, WA

      Indeed. Temuera Morrison is a wonderful actor that can't seem to really break through here in the US. He was in Barb Wire and despite the fact that it was a Pamela Anderson vehicle, he did well.

      Thanks for sharing your connection.

    • freecampingaussie profile image

      freecampingaussie 6 years ago from Southern Spain

      My friends brother is in this movie, Temuera Morrison. I lived in NZ for a long time , was a good movie .A lot of people have a tough life.

    • vmartinezwilson profile image

      Vanessa Martinez Wilson 6 years ago from Vancouver, WA

      It is a really good movie. The acting is superb and the characters are well written. It's on Netlix if you have that.

      Thanks a bunch Romano

    • Romano Arnesto profile image

      Romano Arnesto 6 years ago from Philippines

      I may start looking for this movie. I haven't seen it here in the Philippines. Thanks for sharing!

    • vmartinezwilson profile image

      Vanessa Martinez Wilson 6 years ago from Vancouver, WA

      There aren't any spoilers in this review. I give an overview and my perspective similar to reading the back of a DVD. It's my way of convincing you to watch this great movie without telling you too much.

      So go watch that movie!


    • profile image

      carol 6 years ago

      Thanks for the heads up ...spoil alert...