“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (2016) Ninjas! Direwolves! Child Welfare! (Review)
There is perhaps no other filmmaker in the world like Taika Waititi. Combining heart-felt stories, a wonderful sense of humor, and the Kiwi whimsy of his native New Zealand, Waititi is making movies he loves to make. And it is infectious.
In Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Waititi tells the story of young Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a wannabe gangster 13 year old, who has cycled through the foster system. He finds a home with farming couple, Bella (Rima Te Wiata) and Hector (Sam Neil), who live on the edge of The Bush. Shortly after arriving, and through a series of misunderstood events, Ricky and Hector find themselves out in The Bush, on the run from the police, child welfare, and eventually the army.
Hands down, the star of the film is Julian Dennison. Ricky Baker is an exceptional character, wide-eyed and naive, but with a twisted sense of optimism we can only find endearing. He wants to be a rapper and die in a drive-by, like his best friend, Tupac (which is also the name of his dog), yet is also insanely excited to read books, even as much as stealing a copy of Animal Farm from a hunting outpost. He is smarter than he lets us believe and as the film unravels, those strengths emerge and we see him grow up. Dennison, who is far from done in Hollywood, exemplifies the fat kid in all of us, with a jolly sense of adventure, danger, and humor. He is impossible to hate.
Not surprisingly, Dennison manages to keep up with veteran actor, Sam Neil, who is at his finest as the grumpy, quiet, and bushman, Uncle Hector. Neil’s character is a broken man, who refuses to let anyone in, and it is his begrudging acceptance of Ricky that gives Wilderpeople its heart. Had Pixar’s Up been a live-action film, one could easily see both Dennison and Neil as Carl and Russell.
Rounding out the rest of the cast are Rhys Darby, Cohen Holloway, and Rachel House, all Waititi veterans. This fact, combined with the setting of Waititi’s native New Zealand, lends to the personal value of the film and the care the director put in to it. It is an easy movie to love because you can sense the love that was put in to it.
Luckily for us, Waititi’s infectious love for story-telling and movie-making has been given the chance to grow exponentially. With each new film, the director builds upon what was learned beforehand and continues to shine. In Wilderpeople, we witness more than just a quirky and funny script brought to the screen. It is a gorgeous film, with exceptional cinematography that not only showcases the majestical beauty of New Zealand, but also the offbeat humor. Sweeping shots give an epic weight to the film and allow the movie to be even bigger.
Wilderpeople‘s soundtrack is just as effective, and mixed with the title cards of each chapter in the film, tells its own narrative. The film not only features familiar tunes (with songs from both Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone), but also one of the best renditions of a birthday song you will ever see. The soundtrack is its own character. Just as he did with the rest of the movie, you can see the thought Waititi put in to selecting the songs.
Fortunately, Waititi has not gone unnoticed. Later this year, we get to see his scripted Disney flick, Moana followed by him tackling his first blockbuster, as he is directing Thor: Ragnarok.
There are very few complaints one would have with Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Not only is it one of the best movies of the year, but perhaps one of the best in recent memory. It is as near a perfect film as one could ask for. It is a movie filled to the brim with love, made with love. And that is the best kind of thing to watch.
Go see this movie
It is very very good
I liked it a lot