BROKEN. Starring: Joshua Calles, Ruby Grubb, and Wayne Hapi. Directed by Tarry Mortlock. Rated M (Violence). 97 min.

This New Zealand drama tells the story of an ex-gang leader who loses his daughter to gang warfare, and battles with feelings of revenge. There are four films with the same title that have appeared in the last six years, and this is the most recent of them. The movie is inspired originally by the true New Zealand story of a young Maori girl, who was the daughter of a Ngati Hau chieftain, and who was murdered by a raiding tribe in the 1800s. The film is also influenced by the book, “Tarore and her Book” written by New Zealand author, Joy Cowley, and published by the Bible Society in 2009.

In Cowley’s tale, Tarore was a 12-year old girl, who treasured a copy of the Gospel of Luke which was translated into Maori, and which she wore around her neck in a bag that she carried everywhere. In 1836, she was killed, and the tragedy of what happened to her inspired stories of peace and reconciliation in the Maori culture. Her attacker removed the Gospel of Luke that she was carrying, thinking it might be tradeable, but her tragic death ultimately paved the way for restoration and peace between warring tribes. This movie is a modern retelling of the story, and the film swept the Box Office in New Zealand when it was released earlier this year. The Director of the film, who also wrote it, is Tarry Mortlock, a young, Christian youth pastor. City Impact Church produced the film, and Mortlock reimagines the story for the present day.

The film itself is set in a region close to Gisborne, on the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand. Joshua Calles takes the lead part of Logan, the girl’s father in the film, and is an actual policeman in the town of Gisborne. The movie tells us that Logan was the leader of “The Mad Bulls”, which has an ongoing feud with a rival gang, called “Pouakai”, led by Cruz (Wayne Hapi). In the film, Logan gives up his gang-life for his daughter, Tori (Ruby Grubb), to spend time looking after her. Although he steps down from his leadership of the “The Mad Bulls”, gang rivalry continues, and his daughter is killed by the rival gang, Pouakai.

Distraught, Logan chooses between vengeance, which he knows will lead to all-out gang warfare, and forgiveness which he knows his daughter would want him to do. He struggles violently with his emotions, and fights against being drawn back into a life he was determined to leave. The movie explores gang violence and culture in New Zealand realistically, and the violence shown  reminds one a little of the grim scenes in the movie, “Once were Warriors” (1994). The fight scenes in both movies are cruel and bloody.

Acting is impressive, especially Wayne Hapi, who takes the part of Cruz, the leader of the rival gang. The film’s cinematography is excellent, and the movie contrasts effectively the themes of forgiveness and revenge by exploring the nature of them both. It strongly endorses forgiveness “as the key that unlocks the door of resentment, and the handcuffs to hatred” - which are Tori’s own words left on a video she made, that Logan sees after she dies.

Influenced by real life events, the film moves quickly into spiritual mode. The Director is a Christian pastor who balances the themes of revenge and forgiveness well, and the title of the movie (Broken) symbolically represents a violent separation of worthy and shameful feelings. While lacking the power of “Once were Warriors”, Tarry Mortlock shows both Logan and Cruz  weighing vengeance and forgiveness against each other, before the latter is chosen, which reflects the spirit of the original story and Cowley’s retelling of it. Sweeping aerial shots capture scenically the beauty of New Zealand’s coast line, and although the film’s scripting is heavy and ponderously delivered at times, Mortlock’s direction is sensitive, and the story is moving.

This is a film that captures meaningfully a modern retelling of great significance to the Maori culture, and one that has definite Christian relevance. Its messages are very moral ones, and they are under the sympathetic control of an understanding, young Christian Director. 

Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Rialto Films

Released May 3, 2018

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