Movie review by
Alistair Lawrence, Common Sense Media
Savage Movie Poster Image
New Zealand gang drama has brutal violence, swearing, abuse.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 100 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Violence and crime are the overriding themes of the movie. But there are positive messages about overcoming hardship, and the importance of friendship and loyalty.

Positive Role Models

Characters are frequently violent and break the law, but are also shown to care for each other. Main characters find it difficult to maintain relationships or show their feelings. Despite his violent tendencies, Danny does stand up for people and protects those who can't defend themselves. Diverse mix of ethnicities among the main cast. Minimal representation of women.


Brutal violence throughout. Claw hammer used as weapon, bloody wounds shown. Kids run scared from adults, fearing violence. Young child pushed against wall, held by ear lobe when caught stealing. Mild tussles between adults and children. Kids in care physically bullied by adults and other, bigger kids. They are beaten with clubs as punishment. Characters fight because of gang rivalries. Bar fights include punches, kicks, and nearby objects used as weapons. Character hospitalized because of injury. Visitor attacked in hospital with punches and kicks. Gangs fight using pipes, crowbars, knives, and bats -- results in bloody injuries and people being knocked unconscious. Character dies from violent attack with a weapon. Sexual abuse in a young detention center is implied with inappropriate touching over clothes. Some instances of characters trying to sexually force themselves on others.


Reference to character catching an STI. Characters are ogled and catcalled with allusions to prostitution. Characters try to pressurize others into casual sex. References to oral sex and ejaculation. Undressing, kissing, partial nudity.


Near-constant use of "f--k," "f--king," and "c--t." Also "s--t," "wanker," and "p---y." Homophobic language including "f--got."


Reference to people taking things for granted, such as cars and houses. Characters derive pleasure and status from riding motorcycles in gangs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink and smoke cigarettes and pot socially, but not to excess.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Savage is a brutal New Zealand coming-of-age drama about gang life, with moments of extreme violence, abuse, and strong language throughout. Danny (Jake Ryan) is an enforcer for a street gang with the action jumping back and forth in time to several key moments in his life. There are few positive messages, but at several points Danny stands up for people and protects those who can't defend themselves. There is a mix of White and Maori characters among the main cast, reflecting New Zealand's demographic. But female characters are marginalized. The main characters swear constantly -- including "f--k" and "c--t" -- and vie to achieve dominance in their social groups through violent altercations. This leads to fights between gangs that result in injury and death. Kids are also victims of violence at the hands of adults who mistreat them when they misbehave. There's even suggestion of child sexual abuse within a detention center. Some light nudity and kissing is shown -- more explicit are references to various sex acts. Characters are shown to value and derive status from possessions such as motorcycles. But generally criticize society for turning people into consumers and freezing them out. There is frequent use of drink and drugs, with alcohol, cigarettes, and pot used socially in bars and at parties, but rarely to excess.

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What's the story?

SAVAGE is a coming-of-age drama inspired by true stories from New Zealand's street gangs. Its main focus is on Danny, or "Damage" (Jake Ryan), over a 30-year period, along his journey from a young boy in the correctional system, to a feared, violent criminal.

Is it any good?

Set in the violent world of New Zealand street gangs, this tells a familiar story of young men being drawn toward an outlaw lifestyle as what they see as a means of survival. While writer-director Sam Kelly has clearly done his research in order to capture that world vividly -- Savage is inspired by true stories -- the movie falters with its portrayal of characters who feel like they could be lifted out of any gangster movie.

Strong performances from the cast keep things watchable. But as the final half an hour unravels into repetitive fight scenes and squabbling between different factions, there's little here that feels new or original. Danny and Moses (John Tui) are believable as a pair of troubled best friends thrown together and traumatized by a brutal young detention center system, but their relationship is never fully explored. Meanwhile Chelsie Preston Crayford is criminally underused as Flo, an interloper into Danny's world who might have drawn some of his complexities closer to the surface.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Savage. Did it feel realistic? Were any scenes particularly hard viewing? Do you think the violence Danny suffered as a kid impacted the man he became? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • Families can talk about the strong language used in the movie. Did it seem necessary or excessive? What did it contribute to the movie?

  • How was sex portrayed in the movie? Was it affectionate? Respectful? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • How was drinking and drug use portrayed? Were there consequences? Why is that important?

  • Talk about the different gangs and their rivalries. How did this divide Danny's loyalties between his friends and his brother? What could be done to prevent this?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age dramas

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