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‘Mahana’ – Review

‘Mahana’ – Review

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Temuera Morrison and Lee Tamahori reteam for a heart warming tale of family loyalty in trying times, that borders on the edge of Shakespearean tragedy in Mahana.

Adapted  from the novel by Witi Ihimaera,  Mahana follows young Simeon Mahana (Akuhata Keefe), a young Maori farm boy who is coming of age in the late 1950s, and is being tested by his grandfather, the staunch and steadfast Tamihana (Temuera Morrison). But when Simeon stumbles upon a past tragedy, and the secret that has fueled the blood rivalry between the Mahanas and their enemies, the Poatas, for decades, it leads him to test the willpower of his grandfather and could lead to the ruin of everything that the Mahana clan have built for themselves.

It has been more than twenty years since Tamahori and Morrison first collaborated on groundbreaking New Zealand film Once Were Warriors, which introduced moviegoers the world over to Morrison’s intensely passionate and furious acting ability. Now in Mahana, he re-channels that intensity as gruff old clan leader Tamihana, who sees hard work and few emotions as the key to his family’s success. Morrison’s performance is uncompromising, and the strength of character he portrays, as well as the darkness at the heart of the performance, creates a layered and compelling screen persona that audiences will respect.

Cast opposite Morrison (and holding his own in every scene) is newcomer Akuhata Keefe as Simeon, the youngest male member of the Mahana clan. While not possessing his grandfather’s tough demeanor, Simeon makes up for it with a keen intellect and quick wit, which often lands him in hot water. Keefe is definitely a star to watch, thanks in part to one particularly intense scene at the local court which touches on the notion of Maori rights and freedom of speech. Keefe never backs away from the challenging performance set by Morrison, with the two actors coming to blows more than once. But audiences will come to experience the deep respect that both performers have for one another, and this results in great tension on screen.

Director Lee Tamahori has successfully combined a fierce and challenging script with a group of actors at the top of their game, resulting in another bonafide Kiwi classic and career best performance for Morrison. Mahana is not for the faint of heart, but the compelling story makes for intensely mesmerising viewing that serious film fans will appreciate.

Image: eOne Films