Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is apparently a real bad egg. We're talking disobedience, stealing, spitting, running away, throwing rocks, kicking stuff and graffiti. That's the resume of the portly 13-year-old presented to his new foster mum Bella (Rima Te Wiata) by Child Welfare loudmouth Paula (Rachel House). Bella outpost rundown farm near the Bush is the last stop for Ricky before he's off to juvenile prison. Paula's motto is no child left behind but it should really be no kid will ever get the better of her. Ricky slowly warms to Bella and her grumpy Husband Hector (Sam Neil). As Ricky finally starts to feel that he has found a home a tragic event strikes the Faulkner farm leading Ricky followed by Hector to Go Bush.
Friendship, family, independence, thumbing your nose at authority and the need to belong are all represented prominently in writer director Taika Waitit's film. Waitit director of 2014 wonderfully entertaining Vampire mocumentary What We Do In the Shadows is an every growing voice in New Zealand and world cinema. He is sure to emerge from art house obscurity with his next ventures behind the camera for Thor: Ragnarok and penning the Disney animated feature Moana. Waitit adapted the story from beloved local writer Barry Crump's book Wild Pork and Watercress. Having a knack for appearing in front of the camera during his films Waitit does the same here as an authority figure in a somber scene that he singlehandedly turns into a circular farce.
Once Hector catches up with Ricky in the Bush he suffers an injury that grounds the pair for 6 weeks until he can recover. During that time the rumour mill spins out of control, which is not helped by the suicide note and burnt effigy Ricky left behind to fool the authorities. The result is a pair of fugitives on the run, grabbing supplies from hunting cabins, mixing it up with a trio of hunters and keeping a couple of steps ahead of Child Services and the might of the police that Paula brings to bear. The media soon pick up on the story leading the duo to national prominence especially after they perform an act of kindness along the way.
Julian Dennison is a rising star that shows off a vast range of acting skills lead by his pinpoint comedic timing as Ricky. He is just at home singing and dancing as he is sulking or playing want to be gangster. The consummate professional Sam Neil displays his chameleon skills once again as the curmudgeonly Uncle Hec. He's gruff, monosyllabic; isolationist and moody up front but grows to be a great teacher, mentor and guardian to Ricky as the action progresses. Rima Te Wiata's Bella has enough verbiage, energy and heart for the troika in the opening third. She's warm, practical, intuitive and resourceful as she runs the remote farm.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a delightful journey that the audience will be happy they boarded. Director Waitit builds on the original story while Lachlan Milne's lens expertly portrays the hilly New Zealand Mountains and valleys through several seasons. The acting is more expressive than precise which serves the material well. All of the productions combined elements fit together perfectly to make it a film that I can highly recommend.
**** Out of 4.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople | Taika Waitit | New Zealand | 2016 | 101 Minutes.
Tags: New Zealand , Go Bush, Child Services, Foster Care, Juvenile Detention, Police, Army, Zag, Tu-Pac, Fugitives, Haiku