At the turn of the 20th century, in an unnamed costal town in New Zealand, a larger than life, rough round the edges, ex-Boer war guerrilla, Arjan( Ray Winstone) clearly stands out amongst the crowds of returning soldiers and immigrants. He’s arrived to build himself a new life after being left with next to nothing but is greeted with a less than hospitable welcome. It would appear he’s arrived with more than just physical baggage and his fierce reputation as a colourful and violent man has also made the long journey with him to this distant arm of the British Empire. However, despite this initial stumbling block, his renowned tracking skills soon find him under the employ of British commanding officer Major Carlisle.
His mission is to track down and capture a Maori whaler (Kereama, Temuera Morrison), described un-poetically as an ‘educated savage’. The native has been wrongly accused of the murder of a British soldier and realising that a man of his ethnicity hasn’t a hope of a fair trial, he intelligently flees to the uninhabited and at times treacherous (yet no less beautiful) natural terrain. If he’s caught alive, Arjan will be handsomely rewarded for his trouble; a driving force that’ll no doubt help him put aside his hatred of the British, for a little while at least...
What follows is an intriguing mix of period drama and chase thriller, yet still manages to feel like a film that’s treading on all too familiar ground (Hunter and prey discovering they’re not all that different). Bizarrely though, it’s only once these inevitable and remarkably predictable moments of redemption strike that there’s finally something to spark a little interest before it’s all ruined by the constant shifts in power, that quickly become overplayed and farcical. There are some flashes of genuine humour and moments of heartfelt compassion, themes tellingly lacking at the beginning of the film, but unfortunately, it’s not enough to save what feels like an incredibly uneventful and tedious trek.
The on screen chemistry between Winstone and Morrison manages to inject some life into the limp direction but regrettably little is made of it, especially compared to similar genre pieces like The Proposition and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. There’s no satisfying ‘skin-peeling’ character development to sink your teeth into and the underlying issues of colonisation and the resulting loss of national identity are never truly investigated, which considering the films preference to long narrative driven scenes seems like a missed opportunity. Whilst the accomplished framing of shots and the beautiful scenery they capture should be commended, they only hold your attention for so long and ultimately it finally culminates in a film that’s little more than the sum of its parts.