Michal J.’s review published on Letterboxd:
"I was trying to tell that it was like Lord of the Rings." ~ Ricky Baker
^ Instant 3 stars guaranteed from me for that reference alone.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Taika Waititi's New Zealand adventure, paints a hilarious, heartfelt, and enjoyable narrative between a trouble-making orphan and his adoptive, grumpy uncle as they go on the run into the New Zealand wilderness as they flee a nation-wide manhunt. Starring Sam Neil as Hector and Julian Dennison as Ricky, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a heartfelt, lighthearted, and touching story of adventure and discovery that convey the importance of connection, love, and learning all in one, all while giving us more than enough laughs and tugs of the heart-strings along the way.
Above all else, however, this film is beautiful; the scenery, the cinematography, the locations, the costumes, they all pop out and scream beauty, awe, and magical adventure from frame to frame. From the beautiful woods and scenery of New Zealand to Lachlan Milne's stunning cinematography and Taiki Waititi's crisp direction, Hunt for the Wilderpeople builds it's strongest and most compelling of foundations as a visually arresting piece of work. Waititi's camera direction also stands out and visually arrests numerous scenes with it's distinct style, originality, and just sheer confidence in ability to shoot and capture a great scene. Combined with the video editing, Waititi's camera moves and transitions and angles all convey a confident and dominant direction style that is more than welcome, fresh, and unique, and sadly a bit lacking nowadays. This direction style plays to the tone and theme of the story very well, showing Waititi's sheer understanding and grasp of tone and atmosphere, as his direction and visual style all greatly complement the story at hand. Honestly, in many ways, his style reminded me of a very subtle hint of Wes Anderson, which is a praise if nothing else (considering the way the Child Services character "Paula" was written, I'd be surprised if Moonrise Kingdom wasn't at least a eetsy weetsy inspiration here).
To top it all of, this movie is funny. While, based off of some of the reviews I've read, it might not have been as funny for me as it was to others, I think it's undeniably extremely hard not to smile and appreciate Waititi's humour, which melts and moulds into the picture like a glove. Waititi understands the art of comedy timing, and, what delighted me the most, was his seamless grasp of physical humour, the use of movement and objects and the environment to produce a laugh rather than sharp verbal jokes, which this movie definite does not lack either. Above all else, Waititi's humour and comedy in this film is the type that I think is extremely accessible and "easy" to slip into and like for almost any type of audience member. Of course, the quality of the comedy itself is top-notch, and the comedic performance on the part of Julian Dennison and Rachel House is absolutely great, from Paula's outbursts and Ricky's various lines and mannerisms, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a racket from beginning to end that, if it doesn't have you laughing out loud, it will definitely have you smiling and grinning and giggling from beginning to end.
Just how Ricky is the comedic lead, Sam Neil's Hector is what I would describe as the dramatic anchor for the film. While he has more than his fair share of funny and comedic moments, Hector is definitely the serious member of the duo and serves as the dramatic cornerstone for the film's overarching maturity and themes, compounded by Ricky's character arc and contributions. As a story, to me, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a story about the beauty of nature on one hand, and the invaluable power of human connection and bonding. Ricky and Hector are both estranged individuals, both of them not having known their parents, both of them having had rough life's, both of them being "broken men" that had been taken care of by Hector's wife Bella. The love and happiness that Bella impassioned upon Hector during his life, is slowly transferred from him over to Ricky as he slowly opens up and "matures" in his adventures with Ricky. As a result, Ricky finds the human connection and bonding that he had been looking for for most of his life, while Hector learns from Ricky the innocence and freedom that he'd been lacking. It's a sweet, tender, innocent tale that I more than enjoyed.
Speaking of Hector, I need to talk about Sam Neil. If you knew, without beforehand knowledge, that Hector was played by Sam Neil, I will not believe you, cover my ears, and scream la la la because Sam Neil blended into that beard so well that he was completely unrecognisable. This is the sort of performance that brings your (Neil's) career back into the spotlight, or so I hope, because Neil's performance was completely chameleon-like and filled to the brim with charm and charisma. On the topic of acting, Julian Dennison as the child talent also shone and I was pleasantly surprised how compelling and convincing his performance was, having the innocence but also the confidence that his character just stood for. Rime te Wiata deserves mention for her role as Bella, an incredibly touching and sweet performance for an equally kind character, and Rachel House as Paula the child services worker, whose comedic timing and comedic mannerism made her character one of the funniest in the whole movie. The movie interview scene where she's interviewed by two tv anchors live is hands down the funniest scene of the film and one of my favourites of the movie.
Taking a step back, however, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, despite all of it's visual, directorial, comedic, and editorial prowess, I think at the end of the day I wasn't completely sold by the film's overall narrative. I've already spoken positively about the film's story and themes, so this might sound contradicting, but I think at the end of the day the film's central theme, while touching and lovely, didn't quite resonate and slay me as I think it could have. The dramatic depth and payoff of the relationship between Ricky and Hector is extensive but I think it sort of misses it's mark a bit at times. I took a stab at discussing the film's themes but their emotional payoff and effect on me weren't actually all that extensive. By the end of the movie, I found that I likely extracted most of my enjoyment of the movie from it's visual beauty, direction, and great comedy rather than it's narrative. As a result I have to conclude that there are certain holes in the film's overall substance, a certain intermittent lack of focus and sharp dramatic leaps, that hold the movie back a little bit from being even better than it already is. A lot of this has to be taken with a grain of salt, however, since I think some of this might just have to do with my personal enjoyment and taste in the film, and for many, if not most, this might not be anywhere near being an issue, so for you, dear reader, there might not be any issues in the scripts, and only positives.
At the end of the day, Taika Waititi's superbly directed, aesthetically and visually arresting, and hilarious ride is a cinematic adventure more than worth diving into; you'll find yourself laughing, smiling, and enjoying every joke and lighthearted moment, while still finding time to let the movie hit you in the feels when it's ready. For me, the script and overall overarching theme and narrative could have been slightly sharper and more uniform, but that doesn't prevent this film from being the wonderful, enjoyable movie that it is, and for most, this should be a film to watch as y'all catch up quality films of 2016.
A part of: 2016 Ranked.