savage

★★★★

DIRECTOR: sam kelly (debut)
STARRING: jake ryan, john tui, chelsea preston crayford and seth flynn

 

REVIEWER: lyall carter

Inspired by the true stories of New Zealand's street gangs across 30 years, Savage follows Danny at three defining moments in his life as he grows from a boy into the violent enforcer of a gang.

The trend in New Zealand cinema in the last decade, more often than not, has been to make films that lean towards a more Taika Waititi-esque kinda comedy. Even our drama films have a little bit of awkward Kiwi humour sprinkled throughout. Savage is not that kinda film. It’s a different beast altogether. Savage will completely arrest you in its brutality, but pluck every single heart string you’ve got. 

 

Inspired by the true stories of New Zealand's Street gangs across 30 years, Savage follows Danny at three critical moments in his life as he grows from a boy into the violent enforcer of a gang.

 

Each chapter is set in a defining time for New Zealand street gangs: from the tough state-run boys' homes of the sixties where many gang members grew up; to the emerging urban gang scene in the seventies where teenagers created their own gang families and fought rival gangs; to the eighties when gangs became more structured, criminal and violent. Across his lifetime Danny searches for connection, torn between his real family and his gang family, and must find where he belongs.

 

The driving force of this narrative is Danny from boy, to teenager and then man. Throughout the film you witness first hand the abuse he endured during his childhood which drove him into the loving but violent arms of gang life. It’s a complete sucker punch to the senses. 

 

In the media you hear commentators saying that we should make it so difficult to be in a gang that we no longer have them in NZ. If Savage teaches us anything at all it’s that gangs are the fruit of a problem and not the root. Danny, abused and unwanted from an early age, is looking for acceptance and family and finds that in the gangs. It's a sobering watch and the questions it poses to us individually and our society at large will haunt you long after the credits roll.

 

Beyond Danny’s character development the narrative structure of focusing on three parts of his life doesn’t lend itself to developing too many of the supporting characters. Unfortunately this can at times lead to a disconnect between Danny and the rest of the characters in Savage.

 

In years gone New Zealand period dramas didn’t always live up to the more expensive UK or US ones. But the production of Savage is immaculate; perfect costuming, period vehicles and decor.

 

Young, teen and adult Danny are all superb in their roles with adult Danny Jake Ryan giving off some Russell Crowe Romper Stomper vibes. Ryan’s aggressive, furious command of the screen perfectly balanced with a genuine heartfelt performance during the more emotional moments might just see him head on a similar career trajectory to Crowe. John Tui and Chelsie Preston Crayford both do exceedingly well, but are slightly let down by minimal character development. 

 

Raw and visceral that will pull at every heart string, Savage is a New Zealand gang film of thundering power that will leave you with haunting questions long after the credits roll. 

★★★★

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