Written & directed By Taika Waititi
Based on the novel Wild Pork and Watercress
by Barry Crump
Starring Sam Neill & Julian Dennison
With Rhys Darby, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Troy Kingi, Cohen Holloway, Stan Walker, Mike Minogue, Hamish Parkinson, & Lloyd Scott
Release Date: March 31, 2016
Running Time: 1hr 41min
Ricky Baker (Dennison) is a juvenile delinquent who’s been in trouble with the law on multiple occasions. He’s taken by child welfare worker, Paula Hall (House), and police officer Andy (Knightley), out to a remote New Zealand farm to live with the cheerful Bella Faulkner (Te Wiata), and her cantankerous husband Hector aka Hec (Neill). Ricky isn’t too excited to be there, but he gradually starts to bond with Bella, who isn’t put off by his rebellious nature.
Things take a turn, however, when Bella suddenly dies. Ricky gets a letter from Child Welfare that they plan to put him in a new home, feeling he needs to be raised by two foster parents. With Hec not wanting to keep him around, Ricky runs off with his new dog Tupac into the bush to avoid being taken away. Hec soon finds him, but accidentally fractures his ankle from a fall, forcing the two to camp for a period of time.
When Paula and Andy come to retrieve Ricky and find no traces, they assume Hec has become unstable and kidnapped him. Once the two learn of this misunderstanding, and Ricky talks about his fear of ending up in juvenile prison, so Hec takes him further into the bush, bonding as he teaches Ricky how to survive in the wild.
The filmed premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on January 22, 2016, along with other festivals being nominated for and winning various awards. It opened March 31, 2016 in New Zealand, received a limited North American release on June 24, 2016, and would end up earning a worldwide profit $23.2 million against $2.5 million budget. It received critical acclaim, with many critics highlighting Dennison and Neill’s performances and chemistry.
I absolutely adore this film! I was already a fan of Taika Waititi by the time I finally got around to seeing this, having enjoyed films he made before and after this one. it has the kind of quirky humor I enjoy, with just the right amount of warm-hearted moments sprinkled in that aren’t too saccharine. The film looks amazing too! I’m not a big fan of being in nature myself, but the landscapes of the New Zealand wilderness are quite beautiful.
Sam Neill is terrific as always (I really can’t recall him ever giving a bad performance, even if not so great projects), giving the character Hec the perfect balance of gruff but lovable personality. This is only the third film of Julien Dennison, and he’s proving himself to be a very capable actor. He and Neill have natural chemistry together, and while the characters often clash due to the generational and cultural differences between them, they still clearly have a strong bond.
The supporting cast round things out well. While Rima Te Wiata isn’t in the film long, she’s an absolute delight as Bella. Rachel House is hilarious as the social worker willing to do basically anything to make sure Ricky is safe, while Oscar Knightley has some subtlety fun moments as her reluctant partner. There’s also a fantastic appearance from the hilarious Rhys Darby, playing a man who befriends Ricky and Hec, who’s gone bonkers from being off the grid for decades. As of the writing of this review the movie is streaming on Netflix, so I say give it a watch!
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