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  Savage The Wellington Way
Year: 2019
Director: Sam Kelly
Stars: Jake Ryan, John Tui, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Seth Flynn, Haanz Fa'avae Jackson, James Matamua, Jack William Parker, Alex Raivaru, Olly Presling, Lotima Pome'e, Italiyah Wilson, Eden Flynn, Poroaki Merritt McDonald, Richard Falkner, Dominic Ona-Ariki
Genre: Drama, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: 1989, and in Wellington, New Zealand, influential gang member Damage (Jake Ryan) is faced with a dilemma at his clubhouse when one of their number has been accused of stealing, so he had to mete out justice in the form of a claw hammer - his weapon of choice - planted into the hand of the culprit, something that doesn't make him any more friends in the circle of the gang. They are named The Savages, and under the leadership of Moses (John Tui) they have grown from a ragtag bunch of kids to one of the most feared groups around, but Damage is not entirely happy. He starts to feel the draw of a different way of life, one which would satisfy him far more than the cycle of violence, and an encounter with a higher-class woman (Chelsie Preston Crayford) sets him reflecting...

Savage was the feature debut of Sam Kelly, who had earned his experience making short films, but here was set on presenting a side of New Zealand that would be less to do with the picturesque scenery that much of the cinema out of the nation liked to include, and more about confronting its ugly side. He did so by concentrating on a wild bunch of none-more-macho men who define themselves not by success in love, or parenting, or careers, but how adept they were at beating other men up. While Kelly obviously made this to depict that kind of brutality, he was under few illusions about how much "damage" the lifestyle does to them psychologically, never mind physically, as everything we witnessed play out here screamed a hollow existence for stunted souls.

None of these men are in touch with their emotions, and to even attempt that would be to undercut their status as manly blokes, which even more than shagging women (which we significantly don't see much of, if anything) finds that violence is the most fulfilling expression, which as Damage eventually recognises, is no fulfilment at all. This was in the tradition of tough pictures from this part of the world like Smash Palace or Once Were Warriors, which showed aggressive, relentless masculinity as a kind of mental disease from which the sufferer had to want to be cured of, or else they will simply stew away until they get too old to participate, a wasted life, or meet a sticky end as they succumb to the kind of bloodshed that Damage is beginning to question is doing him any benefit, never mind his fellow gang members. Kelly based his screenplay on real social problems, and though this was fictional, it did feel authentic.

Had this been made in Hollywood, it would be bikers that it focused on, had it been made in Britain, they would be football hooligans; you know the type of thing, the violent drama, verging on the exploitation movie (and not always verging, a lot of the time diving straight in), where there's a lot of heads kicked in and a bit of a lesson at the end to have the protagonist wonder if this was all worth it. Savage at least had a brain in its head, albeit one in danger of getting the business end of that claw hammer embedded in it, and served up flashbacks to Damage's early years when he was called Danny, by way of explanation of how he wound up the way he did. His loveless father was violently abusive, his mother cowed into silence, and Danny went into care for stealing where he was beaten and sexually abused in turns by the staff, so he really didn't stand a chance, he was always going to be holding in some serious issues - this also called into question to what degree stern discipline can possibly help a child who needs guidance and a decent role model instead. You get the idea, and the impression was that the finer points would be ignored in favour of the action, but you could appreciate both. Music by Arli Liberman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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