Set in 1870's New Zealand, Utu is a film about revenge. Utu is a Maori
word which means justice, Maori justice. Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is a Maori who
serves as a Lance Corporal in the colonial army. A new strategy of
"controlling" the natives has been put into effect, that of surprise attacks on
small villages where everyone is killed and the village burned. Te Wheke comes upon
such a scene, after the attack, and finds his entire family has been slain. He turns
and kills the nearest white man, a fellow soldier. He vows to seek revenge for his
murdered family members and sets off an uprising that the colonial forces seem unable to
quell. Te Wheke and his band of revolutionaries use guerilla tactics to evade the
army and build increasing support for their movement. It's hard to imagine a more
frightening sight than that of Te Wheke, face fully tattooed, eyes wild, with his tongue
flicking in and out of his mouth (Maori style) as he approaches his victim, hatchet held
While the colonial army has relied heavily on native Maori recruits, they are
now defecting on a daily basis to join Te Wheke. One such soldier asks an officer,
"Will these guns make the world a better place?". "Probably
not." answers the officer. "Then what does it matter whose side you're
on?" asks the soldier.
While seeking revenge from the white man, the rebel Maoris also realize that
they must dissolve past tribal conflicts that have kept the Maori groups warring with each
other. Now, with a united cause, they must examine their own warrior culture.
We wished there was more of the tribal dancing that the Maori are so noted for. One
scene in which Maori colonial troops were displaying Maori war dances was impressive.
The characterization in the film is excellent. The colonials are
portrayed as individuals, not all good or bad, as are the Maoris. Colonel Elliot
(Tim Elliot) is so predictable that Te Wheke knows where he is headed as his scouts report
the movements of the colonial troops, "He'll be going to take a bath.", he
says. And, sure enough, the troops continue on until they reach a rural inn.
Anzac Wallace, who plays Te Wheke, was a first time actor and did a fantastic
job with the role. Supporting cast were all excellent, especially Bruno Lawrence who
plays Williamson, a man who tried desperately to defend against Te Wheke and his men while
they destroyed his home and killed his wife. He goes on his own vengeful mission to
kill Te Wheke.
"UTU","This was a great example of the culture during this rough
time in New Zealand. If you enjoy gorey movies with an interesting twist, rent this
"A note for pakehas: The word "utu" has a more balanced meaning than
"revenge". It is well-translated as ""lex talionis", or the law of
"an eye for an eye". It has something of the flavour of a Golden Rule;
"only do unto others what they did unto you." The important thing is that genuine utu was fairly honourable
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