Truth and Movies

Savage

Review by Lou Thomas @London_Lou

Directed by

Sam Kelly

Starring

Chelsie Preston Crayford Jake Ryan John Tui

Anticipation.

A new director with proven interest in his subject.

Enjoyment.

Ticks along viciously enough but we’ve seen it before, and done better.

In Retrospect.

Considered storytelling amid the coshing. An auspicious debut from Sam Kelly.

This violent gangland drama from writer/director Sam Kelly exposes toxic masculinity in New Zealand.

Savage opens with a tattoo-faced man nicknamed “Damage” smashing a fellow gang member’s hand with a claw hammer. One expects an unflinching exploitation romp but first-time director Sam Kelly instead offers a considered look at toxic masculinity in New Zealand. More brutality follows but there is also feeling and, eventually, growth.

It’s 1989 and middle-aged Damage, née Danny, (Jake Ryan) is chief enforcer of the Savages, a crew run by best pal Moses (John Tui), a Māori gang president whose tenure looks increasingly uncertain as dissenting cohorts vie for his position. The Savages hang out in what looks like a decrepit scrapyard, far removed from the glam-trash sexiness and lucrative gun-running of, say, Sons of Anarchy.

A flashback to 1965 shows how a scary, presumably violent father and pre-pubescent Danny’s robbery of a sweet shop lead him to the Borstal where he meets Moses. The pair become friends when Danny stops Moses from being beaten by a warden and administers retribution with the warden’s own cosh.

Danny is sexually abused by another warden and his lifetime of male mistrust calcifies. In 1978, Moses starts the Savages with a pugnacious spoken manifesto. “We’ll take your cars and your house,” he spits and Danny has to choose between siding with his estranged brother Liam and Moses’ nascent upsetters.

As with his 2011 short Lamb, Kelly based the story on real-life NZ gang tales and the moving tripartite story has a refreshing authenticity. Ryan is convincing as a broken brutaliser and Tui likewise as a man who let power go his head: King Lear in sleeveless denim. The film doesn’t have a substantial part for a woman nor much to say bar the obvious about abused men becoming agents of violence.

Still, Kelly’s work has promise, even if a New Zealand crime family is more memorably portrayed in 1994’s Once Were Warriors.

Published 10 Sep 2020

Tags: Sam Kelly Savage

Anticipation.

A new director with proven interest in his subject.

Enjoyment.

Ticks along viciously enough but we’ve seen it before, and done better.

In Retrospect.

Considered storytelling amid the coshing. An auspicious debut from Sam Kelly.

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