An orphan and his illiterate foster-father go on the lam in the New Zealand wilderness, in Taika Waititi’s crowdpleaser, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Played winsomely by Julian Dennison, the fifteen-year-old orphan is a minor troublemaker known for “spitting, breaking stuff, defacing stuff, kicking stuff, and loitering.” Gruffly taciturn at first, his foster-father (Sam Neill) warms as he establishes a rapport with the orphan, teaching him to survive in the bush while, in return, the orphan teaches him to process emotional pain. Shot in the wild, by Lachlan Milne, the movie showcases, once again, New Zealand’s majestic panoramas, or as Sam Neill’s character prefers to say, “majestical.” Waititi sometimes moves the narrative with montages, panning the camera laterally as one scene transitions into another. The finale is shot deftly, proving to Disney that Waititi can handle the Thor sequel. Although the movie has a score, Waititi wisely does not use instrumentals to overkill tender moments, and the movie uses a handful of songs well, from a Ukrainian holiday hymn to a track by Leonard Cohen. Borderline sweet to a fault, Hunt for the Wilderpeople stands on the shoulders of giants, with references to Lord of the Rings, Scarface, and The Terminators (“You’re more like Sarah Connor. And in the first film, before she could do chin-ups” is one of the best lines in the movie).
By Alec Julian & Carrie White