THREE AND A HALF STARS A rural New Zealand community, suspected of harbouring a terrorist cell, is raided by police.
DRAMA NEW ZEALND #MURU
Starring Cliff Curtis, Jay Ryan
One of the most astonishing aspects of this film is how much of it actually happened. When the sleepy village of Tuhoe, New Zealand was raided by police, it barely made international news at the time. That said, writer/director Tearepa Kahi is clear that the accuracy of what unfolds on screen is not supported nor endorsed by New Zealand authorities. All the same, a rural community was the scene of a major police operation in 2007, one that forced a public apology for their appalling, and deadly, conduct. But as Kahi writes in opening credits, MURU is not a recreation of the raid against the people of Tuhoe. It is a response to it. And what a response it is.
Elder Maori and activist Tame Iti urges his people to prepare themselves for provocation. The government has done it before (albeit in 1916) but, he argues, history has a way of repeating itself. If they don’t look after themselves, who will? This line of thought gets some traction in this tight-knit community and seeps its way to nervous authorities who give it more credence than it might be worth. Given the more recent fatal attack at a mosque in Christchurch, you can forgive their twitchiness where domestic terrorism is concerned. Yet it’s known that Tame’s mouth has a way of running ahead of itself. While he has a point, does he have the motive or capacity to stage an attack? The community police officer and part-time bus driver ‘Taffy’ Tawharau (Cliff Curtis) doesn’t think so, but those in government disagree. They have operatives hiding in the bush recording everyone’s every move. They have all the proof they need.
All this is the slow-burn background. Tuhoe is clearly a peaceful place with a strong sense of community and identity. It’s not without trouble - 16 year old Rusty is the focal point of teenage rebellion - a kid dealing with an absentee father and a fondness for breaking things. Once established, Kahi wastes no time in turning up the heat, sending in the troops and propelling us to the edge-of-our-seats.
As a thriller, MURU is an incredible achievement. Sweeping helicopter shots and close-up car and horse chases (this is rural NZ) lend the story a gripping excitement. Yet Kahi is smart enough to give the action gravitas through Taffy’s determination to bring down the temperature. He knows what these people are capable of, he knows their motives, he knows that his senior colleagues have misread the situation. Will they listen to him before someone gets seriously hurt? Will they listen before doing lasting damage to the community he holds so dare? That’s the line of tension that brings you forward in your seat.
While you may not recognise the name, you’ll recognise his face; Curtis is typically the best thing in any project he signs up for. He brings a lot to MURU, helping bring sharp-focus to Kahi’s themes of community and injustice while also being the ideal foil for the action swirling around him. Add a robust support cast including the eye-catching Jay Ryan as the misguided mission leader and MURU is a well above-average ‘true-story’ about a true story you never heard about. It's powerful stuff.