New Zealand director Taika Waititi might just be one of the brightest up-and-coming directors. He possesses a unique vision. Much like indie auteur Wes Anderson, he creates magical worlds. Charming movies such as Eagle vs. Shark and What We Do in the Shadows demonstrated his ability.
His latest such endeavor, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which opens Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre, represents yet another crowning achievement for the actor, comedian and painter. The film centers on Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a troublemaking teen who has a history of committing petty crimes. Family Services has finally found him a foster family, and his life appears as if it will change for the better when Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata), a genuinely kind middle-aged woman, takes him into her rural New Zealand home.
But as much as Aunt Bella bestows affection on the portly kid, her husband, Uncle Hec (Sam Neill), doesn't take well to the hip-hop loving young boy who wears sneakers and hoodies and regularly talks about "gangstas." He tells the kid to just leave him alone while he spends his days hunting and maintaining the ranch.
Though hardly suited to life on their rural ranch, Ricky appreciates the love that Aunt Bella bestows upon him. And he agrees to be responsible for a dog that she gives him, naming the creature "Tupac" after rapper Tupac Shakur. Things appear to be improving for Ricky.
But when Bella has a sudden heart attack, Ricky and Uncle Hec must learn to cope with one another. On a trek through the rugged wilderness, Uncle Hec twists his ankle, forcing him to rely on Ricky, who helps him recover from his injury. When Family Services returns to the ranch to take Ricky back to juvenile detention, the two go on the run, escaping into the thick woods that surround the family ranch as a manhunt ensues.
A kids' movie that's not a kids' movie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople benefits from some great performances. Dennison makes Ricky into a true anti-hero. You can't help but root for the kid, even though he often doesn't do the right thing. And Neill successfully brings out the softer sides of the cranky Uncle Hec. And throughout the film, Waititi delicately balances comedy and drama, showing just what a remarkable talent he is.