Parents' Guide to

Once Were Warriors

By Brian Costello, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Drama about Maori family has abuse, drinking, suicide.

Movie R 1994 102 minutes
Once Were Warriors Movie Poster

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This is a searing portrait of a Maori family devastated by abuse and alcoholism. Once Were Warriors is about finding an identity and fully embracing one's background and culture and the pain that happens when that identity is denied or ignored. Decades after its release, this is a movie that has earned the right to be called a classic. It's unflinching in its depictions of abuse, poverty, and despair, but there's also some small sense of hope that shines through the pain.

While very much a product of a 1990s realism that presented unsentimental portraits of the urban poor, particularly of minority or indigenous populations, the story, direction, style, and acting transcend that time. It's an unforgettable movie, at times difficult to watch, because the performances -- from Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison in particular -- are so overwhelming in their emotional intensity. But despite all that seems lost, Once Were Warriors reveals that it's possible for individuals and people who feel lost to find themselves again.

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