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Whale Rider

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Whale Rider

Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene
Director: Niki Caro
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: June 2003
Genres: Drama, Foreign


*Also starring: Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House, Taungaroa Emile, Tammy Davis, Mabel Warekawa-Butt, Rawinia Clarke, Tahei Simpson



Review by Susan Granger
3½ stars out of 4

If you enjoyed how John Sayles evoked the Irish essence in "The Secret of Roan Inish," don't miss Niki Caro's contemporary fable set in New Zealand's traditionally patrilineal Maori culture.

Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), called Pai, is the 12 year-old granddaughter of Koro (Rawiri Paratene), leader of the Whangara tribe, who resents her very existence. Her stillborn fraternal twin was to have continued Koro's bloodline which can be traced back to the first aboriginal inhabitants - and legend has it that these ancestors were borne to their island home on the back of a whale. Not only did Pai survive the difficult birth that killed her mother and brother but her father (Cliff Curtis) then deserted the family for a career as an artist in Germany, returning to visit only occasionally. So the only nurturing that Pai has received during her short lifetime is from her grandmother Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton). Nevertheless, she is resourceful and skilled in handling weapons, diving and singing tribal chants. Above all, she is determined to take her rightful place within the tribe - a phenomenon that occurs only after the sacred whales beach themselves on the shore near their village until Pai comes to their rescue.

Adapting Witi Ihimaera's 1987 novel, screenwriter/director Niki Caro and cinematographer Leon Narbey have created a haunting, dreamlike, artistic gem, particularly when Pai sings an ancient tribal song to a dark ocean. And beautiful Keisha Castle-Hughes is a spunky young charmer with a gravity reminiscent of Anna Paquin in "The Piano." On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Whale Rider" is a mysterious, mythic 9. But - be warned - that, while the film is in English, some of the thick accents are difficult to decipher.

Copyright 2003 Susan Granger

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