The chances are a majority of us have never heard of ONCE WERE WARRIORS.  Those who have come across this movie will always be able to recall this movie ages down the line. The powerful message of domestic violence and the struggle for survival is something once watched in ONCE WERE WARRIORS cannot be forgotten. I was told of this movie quite by chance whilst in conversation of the “greatest movies of the 90s”. Curiosity always gets the best of me and I am grateful I was able to find a copy of this title.

The relevance of the message discussed in ONCE WERE WARRIORS to me seems more appropriate today than it would have been almost 2 decades ago. The significance of the Maori tribe is irrelevant in the discussion of its message. Director Lee Tamahoris’ intention of portraying the powerful Maori descendants is in no way an indication that the theme discusses the Maori way of life. Instead it speaks of the way of life of the poor in the world. In a time where natural disasters are at a record high, man-made weapons of mass destruction have the potential of destroying all earthly life and at a time where poverty is increasing more rapidly than it can be fought; this theme could not be more appropriate.

Set in an unnamed city in Southern Auckland, New Zealand, Beth Heke (Rena Owen) and her family struggle to meet their basic necessities. Beth who looks after her 5 children along with her husband Jake lives an ordinary life. Ordinary has a very peculiar subtext in ONCE WERE WARRIORS. Ordinary in the M?orian way of life is a hard day’s work, a couple of beers that follow with the whole community carrying the drinking to one particular house until the drinking can go on no more. To some of us viewers this life may seem wrong, however I personally feel it’s beautiful to see how people manage to smile through all the hardships of life even with the help of alcohol. The only unbalanced medium in this fine equation of poverty and happiness is the temper that Jake Heke (Temuera Morrison) carries along with him. Jake loves his family dearly; however under the influence of alcohol he is an uncontrollable monster that is yearning to be released. Jake has very little tolerance and respect to those around him once he is provoked. May it be wife, child or friend Jake would not hesitate to throw his arms around! He packs a punch meaner than Jason Statham of today!

The success in ONCE WERE WARRIORS is most certainly her talented cast. Rena Owen puts up a performance that I personally will remember a life time. An actress who has been called one of the most talented actress of her time indeed is worthy of such praise. None will say otherwise once you have seen her in this. The most touching moment is when Rena Owens holds her deceased daughter in her arms in her own back yard; I broke down into tears when I felt her pain. The mix is perfect with Temuera Morrison who stars by Owens side. How these two performances were not acknowledged at the Oscars during its time is question I could not find an answer to.

With over 19 awards to its name ONCE WERE WARRIORS is certainly amongst the top 50 movies of the 90s!

TITLE: ONCE WERE WARRIORS

DIRECTED BY: LEE TAMAHORI

STARRING: RENA OWEN, TEMUERA MORRISON AND MAMAENGAROA

RATED: R FOR PERVASIVE LANGUAGE AND STRONG DEPECTION OF DOMESTIC ABUSE, INCLUDING SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE

RATING: 08/10

102 MINUTES