MT ZION (PG) (93 min)
Directed by Tearepa Kahi. Starring Stan Walker, Temuera Morrison.
Set in the days leading up to Bob Marley's now legendary concert at Western Springs in 1979, Mt Zion follows the exploits of three young guys dreaming of being Marley's support act.
The guys are workers on the sprawling potato fields around the Bombay hills. The work is tough, but the camaraderie is strong. Out in the fields young Turei (Stan Walker) works on his songs, tries to motivate his bandmates, and wonders how he's going to keep his dream alive when the old man gets word of what he's planning.
Papa is Temuera Morrison, he's the boss of the pickers, struggling to hold together a crew who can fill the quotas and keep the contract. The last thing he needs is a son running away on some porangi quest to play in a band.
It looks wonderful - Fred Renata's camera seeks out the sunset-illuminated fields of Pukekohe, and comes back with some achingly beautiful images. And the integration of genuine 1970s archival footage is cleverly done. But Mt Zion never finds the emotional heft to match its visual gifts.
It's an old story this. So old that it badly needs a new twist. But that twist never arrives. The feel-good ending is telegraphed way too early, and the journey there hasn't had the charm or the rigour to sustain the time it took.
There's nothing wrong with the casting or performances. Morrison gives it his all, as ever, and turns in a rounded and believable characterisation. Around Morrison, Walker, David Wikaira-Paul, and Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson all hold their characters together until it's time to get on stage on and perform, which they do excellently.
It's just a pity that the film all this talent is serving feels so underdone and unoriginal. Mt Zion badly needed a couple of punishingly tough rewrites and rethinks, hopefully under the guidance of someone who was less enamoured of the mere fact that the script existed, and more concerned with making the film into something excellent.
I know some people have brought out the ''it's good enough for a New Zealand film'' line for Mt Zion, but that's patronising, harmful drivel, and I'm not buying it. More work on the script and a few days of pickups to reshoot a couple of moments might have been enough to make Mt Zion a film worth celebrating. As it is, Mt Zion is likable at times, but ''good enough'', just isn't good enough any more.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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