Directed by Taika Waititi
Written by Taika Waititi and Te Arepa Kahi; based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump
Cast: Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Sam Neill, Rachel House, and Oscar Knightley.
Length: 1 hour and 41 minutes
Genre: Adventure, comedy, drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Description from IMDB:
“A national manhunt is ordered for a rebellious kid and his foster uncle who go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.”
Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a delinquent child, is sent to live with a foster couple as his last chance before juvenile prison. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neill) Faulkner live near the bush in New Zealand; a wild area of land that breeds strong and hardy people. After failed attempts to run away, Ricky begins to learn how to work on the farm and begins to feel like part of the family until Bella passes away. He learns that the Department of Child Welfare will be coming to pick him up and decides to run away for good; Hector tracks him down, but after he is hurt, the pair are forced to stay in the bush for weeks. Upon their return to civilization, they find out that people assume Hector kidnapped Ricky and decide to live as outlaws.
Ricky Baker is a chubby child who has grown up in the cities listening to hip hop and idolizing gangsters; he even names the dog that Bella and Hector give him for his birthday Tupac. He is the typical fish out of water coming to the more rural part of New Zealand and doesn’t get very far during his initial attempts to run away. Hector is a gruff loner who enjoys the wilderness, but not the company of other people. He was with Bella because of her loving heart and willingness to take in others who didn’t have a home. Despite their coming from different worlds, Ricky and Hector have a few similarities in common. They are both outcasts who are stubborn and feel at odds with the world around them; neither want to go back to society since Hector has been to prison and Ricky will most likely be sent to juvenile prison. The pair are hunted by Paula (Rachel House), an agent of the Department of Child Welfare and likely someone who has watched too many buddy cop movies. She is a foil to Ricky in her pursuit of a Hollywood stereotype, but she is the copper to Ricky’s gangster. Paula makes a conscious effort to repeat “No child left behind,” which she says is her motto. She is relentless in her pursuit and is put in check at the end of the film by her police companion Andy (Oscar Knightley), who reminds her that she’s not actually a police officer.
Much of the comedy of in the film comes from Ricky. He is a goofy kid with a smart-mouth that wants to go on an adventure and become famous. When he and Hector are stuck in the bush, he makes a Walkman out of sticks and leaves, and a bike made of twigs, in order to keep himself busy. He dances with the leaf-headphones on and asks if Hector wants a go with them; to which Hector refuses. Ricky also takes their pursuers on a car chase at the end of the film in order to die in a blaze of glory, which Hector does not agree with.
The film features beautiful shots of the New Zealand landscape during the parts where Hector and Ricky are on the run. There is an interesting shot used twice in the film where the camera is stationary, but pans to the right continuously. As the camera pans, the characters come into and out of frame while it continues its movement in one seamless motion. This is used when Ricky is initially lost in the bush and when they are being hunted by the authorities to show how difficult it is to traverse the terrain and how easy it is to get lost.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a story about outcasts finding family despite their circumstances. Both Hector and Ricky come to rely upon each other and chip away at the emotional walls they have put up in the past. The story is fairly unoriginal in this sense, but that doesn’t detract from the entertainment factor and the performances by the actors. Both leads are loveable in their own ways and it is heartwarming to see them come together through trust and friendship. This film slipped under a lot of people’s radar and hopefully will get more traction since the director also made one of 2017’s Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a fun movie with heart that maintains its tone despite dipping into some heavy subject matter at times, but ultimately makes for a wonderful experience.
Verdict: 4 gangsta bushmen out of 5
Recommended for: Teens 13-years-old and up, New Zealanders, fans of Taika Waititi, fans of comedy, those who enjoyed the wide-shot views of New Zealand in the Lord of the Rings films, and you!
Not recommended for: Those who love dogs, those who love wild pigs, Zag, people who have a hard time understanding New Zealand accents, or those who dislike Kiwis.