Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople ★★★★

It's good to see Sam Neill's disdainful expression is still in good working order in 2016.

We've seen it all too infrequently since Jurassic Park but here he gets to bust it out regularly. From Rima Te Wiata's birthday song for Julian Dennison to Dennison commenting that he should get a dog called Zig and then on a number of other occasions, Neill shows why a script befitting his expression is something that we have been missing for quite some time.

His whole performance is wonderful though, his amusing irascibility always to the fore but it's also a performance and character superbly directed by Taika Waititi. Waititi seems more than aware of the potential cliche pitfalls that his film could collapse into at any point, but when we meet Neill again for the final scene he really hasn't changed too much at all. He's still uncomfortable around kids and generally world-worn as well as being rather lost in the world at large.

It isn't really his 'journey' to undertake anyway, it's Dennison's. Similarly, Dennison hasn't changed much either. All Waititi has done is allow him to channel his significant energies into more positive directions. He does wear his heart on his sleeve a bit too much when constantly putting the boot into social services / child welfare, but Dennison's spirited strike back against the system is still powerful and heartwarming nonetheless.

Even so, Waititi's one weak spot here is in the form of Rachel House's social worker. Although she is gifted more than enough funny lines and moments, especially when exchanging barbs with Oscar Kightley's dopey copper ("Oh, alive. They should be alive"), the character herself was just a tad too jokey and silly and tramples a little bit on the more serious points that the director is trying to make. She ultimately becomes overplayed and is pretty much discarded at the end with no real resolution to her character, which I think is quite telling.

In many ways she reminded me of Waititi's own character and performance in What We Do In The Shadows (which I nevertheless think I slightly underrated), sticking out as a bit too showy when a bit more subtlety was required. In most other ways, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a wonderful adventure and comedy movie where Waititi also shows a delightful dramatic touch when required.

It's a sign of real confidence from him when he suddenly kills off Te Wiata with no warning at all and when tackling several other more serious moments. He's clearly a director who has a total grasp of the material and story is trying to tell and if he can ally that to a more even approach with his characters, he's going to be a director responsible for many more outstanding movies.

He does push his luck with the whole (ultimately very funny) 'pervert' side-plot, and the part where Dennison relates an innuendo laden account of what he's been up to with Neill is the one moment the film falls flat on the humour front. But it is extremely funny in places, interlacing present day slang and references with some excellent observational and visual stuff - the bit where Dennison takes a look round the farmhouse and then gets back in the police car had me howling.

All in all, quite splendid and lovely and also utterly beautiful, as expected considering its setting. I should track down Waititi's earlier stuff with some haste and I was all hyped up to see what his next project might be when I had a quick look on IMDb - and then I saw Thor: Ragnarok. *sigh*

🇵🇱 Steve G liked these reviews