Film review: Utu Redux

BACK AGAIN: Utu has been restored and re-edited.
BACK AGAIN: Utu has been restored and re-edited.

Directed by Geoff Murphy
Reviewed by Graeme Tuckett

Thirty years after it was first released, Geoff Murphy's Utu gets a full restoration, and mild re-edit. What emerges is, perhaps, Utu the way it should have been seen in 1983.

Keith Aberdein's script was loosely based on the exploits of Te Kooti in the land wars of the 19th century.

Anzac Wallace, in a performance that looks even more remarkable today than it did when the film was first released, plays Te Wheke. He is leading a guerrilla army against the soldiers and the Pakeha settlers whom he blames for the destruction of his village and the massacre of his people. What follows is a classic Western, restaged amid the thousand shades of green that we live with in this glorious land.

And then Utu goes somewhere that no Western ever did: It finds a resolution that involves talk, and a shifting of the moral high-ground that many Pakeha audiences of the day found hard to take. Utu is famous for having been far more warmly received overseas than it was at home.

Time moves on, but Utu is ageing well. Graeme Cowley's cinematography is still magnificent, the script is still nicely propulsive, and Murphy's direction as economical and entertaining as ever. We don't get to make epics in this country any more.

Utu shows us what we have lost. It is also, all nostalgia aside, still a hell of a good film.

Utu Redux opens in Wellington cinemas on Thursday.

The Dominion Post