Stars: Jake Ryan, John Tui, Alex Raivaru, Ollie Presling, Lotima Pome'e
This bruising New Zealand-set drama, set over a thirty-year period, chronicles three stages in the life of Danny, a white Kiwi from a middle-class family who becomes a member of the titular gang.
It begins in 1989 Wellington with the heavily tattooed Danny aka 'Damage' (Australian actor Ryan) dishing out a punishment beating to a fellow gang member for gang boss Moses (Tui). Meanwhile Moses’ dominance of the gang is being threatened by charismatic live wire Tug (Rivaru).
When Danny is picked up by a sexually assertive woman in the pub, he opens up to her, explaining that his face tattoos are a mask he uses in order to reveal his true identity. Cue a flashback in which we see how as a nine-year-old Danny (Presling) was cast out of his devout Christian family home to a an even grimmer juvenile detention centre. There he first meets and connects with young Tongan boy Moses (Pome'e), their friendship getting them through the ordeal. The third section of the film takes place in 1972 where Danny/Damage is firmly established in the Savage gang.
The picture is at its best in the more subdued moments, as brooding men clumsily try and articulate their feelings, while director Kelly shoots his protagonist often in near darkness to emphasise Danny’s isolation. But the film frequently wanders into well-trodden narrative territories of wounded masculinity, strained gangland codes of honour and fraternal fallings out. And the use of a white middle class protagonist as a ‘way in’ to a predominantly Māori/Polynesian milieu feels a little dated.
Savage is released in cinemas 11th September