Whale Rider Movie Review

Just because a female director sets out to make a female empowerment film doesn't mean it can't be charming while rousing the troops. Writer-director Niki Caro presents this story of a Maori girl in New Zealand whose ancestor, according to tribal legend, came from a faraway place, riding on the back of a whale. It's a film of reality and fantasy, treating farfetched dreams and mysticism with acceptance, respecting the tribe's dignity and beliefs.

Koro (Rawiri Paratene) is the Chief of the Ngati Kanohi tribe of Whangara which resides in a coastal fishing village. His thought is that his firstborn son, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), will succeed him as chief. When it's clear that Porourangi has no interest in filling Koro's leadership shoes, Koro looks to his son's children. But tragedy takes over when Porourangi's wife dies in childbirth along with a twin boy, sending Porourangi to seek solace for his loss elsewhere. He leaves daughter Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes, in her film debut), the surviving girl twin, in the care of Koro. "The girl is no use to me", Koro blusters, disappointed that as a girl, she's not a candidate for tribal leadership.

Despite that initial reaction, by the time Pai is eleven, we see grandfather Koro picking her up at school and riding her home on his bicycle, displaying a grandfather's affection. At the same time, he is schooling the firstborn sons of the village in the arts of leadership and "the old ways," demonstrating ritual behavior and martial arts in an effort to find his successor. Pai tries to join in but must settle for a distant observation of the training she wants so much. On such matters, her grandfather is uncompromising, paying no heed to her abilities. Countering his rejections is her indomitable, no-nonsense grandmother Flowers (Vicky Haughton), Pai's harbor of understanding.

Porourangi briefly returns from his home in England where he has become an exhibiting artist. He asks Pai to come back with him and she decides to go but, as they travel along the seacoast, she seems to hear voices from the deep drawing her back. She returns to village and grandparents to pursue her destiny. It's achieved when a pod of whales beach themselves as though in a sacrificial ceremony. The tribal connection to these beasts is vividly emphasized by a community effort to tug them back to sea. Despite their backbreaking labor and ultimate heartbreak, they are not equal to the task... but Pai is.

Eleven year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes was cast for this part from thousands and the selection proves on the mark. This girl's quality of intelligent self-containment leads us through the emotional travails of her character and bodes well for her in an acting career should she pursue one. I rooted for her as I did for Anna Paquin when she emerged in The Piano and for Natalie Portman, introduced to us in The Professional in 1994.

Writer-director Niki Caro's feminist dream-wish also turns on the theme of personal adaptation in the framework of a new world culture. Her screenplay is based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera and was vetted closely by no less than the actual elders of the Maori's Ngati Kanohi. She entered their tribal world with the necessary patience and humility to effectively direct her gender message with documentary acccuracy. "Anybody who says there are things a girl can't do will have to answer to me!", she declares. Messages aside, time with this little girl and her brethren is well spent.

DVD extras include a commentary track, deleted scenes, and a pair of behind the scenes featurettes.

Whale watching.


Comments

Whale Rider Rating

" OK "

Rating: PG-13, 2003

Editors Recommendations

Is The Cannes Palme d'Or Heading David Cronenberg’s Way for 'Map to the Stars'?

The Cannes Film festival is sneaking up fast. The Oscars felt like they were 8 minutes ago...

Is The Cannes Palme d'Or Heading David Cronenberg’s Way for 'Map to the Stars'?

CounterPoint Festival 2014 To Feature Hometown Return of Outkast

Next weekend's CounterPoint Festival will be the event's first year at a new 5000-acre site, featuring...

CounterPoint Festival 2014 To Feature Hometown Return of Outkast

'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' - Not Perfect, But Really, Really Fun

Superhero movies have been striving towards the almost unobtainable goal set...

'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' - Not Perfect, But Really, Really Fun

Ricky Gervais is "Hooked" on David Brent Again - Former Paper Merchant To Return

A return for David Brent has been mooted ever since the character was wheeled...

Ricky Gervais is

This Labor Day, Jay Z Is Bringing "Made In America" To Downtown Los Angeles

Jay Z and the Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti have announced that the rapper’s...

This Labor Day, Jay Z Is Bringing

Anna Wintour wants 'more exclusive' Met Ball 2014

The editor-in-chief of US VOGUE magazine is reportedly determined for the annual...

Anna Wintour - Anna Wintour wants 'more exclusive' Met Ball 2014

'Mrs Doubtfire' Sequel Will Be Made 21 Years After The Original

The comedy classic 'Mrs. Doubtfire' is reportedly set to return to the big-screen...

'Mrs Doubtfire' Sequel Will Be Made 21 Years After The Original

'Of Mice And Men' Brings Out Broadway Talents Of James Franco, Chris O'Dowd

Of Mice And Men premiered on Broadway last night, giving critics a chance to cast...

'Of Mice And Men' Brings Out Broadway Talents Of James Franco, Chris O'Dowd

Sofia Vergara On Her Menage a Trois in Woody Allen's 'Fading Gigolo'

Sofia Vergara has been speaking about her nerves at shooting a ménage a trois with...

Sofia Vergara On Her Menage a Trois in Woody Allen's 'Fading Gigolo'


More recommendations