TIFF Contemporary World Section
Reviewed for Shockya.com by Abe Friedtanzer
Director: Tearepa Kahi
Writer: Tearepa Kahi, Jason Nathan
Cast: Cliff Curtis, Jay Ryan, Manu Bennett, Tame Iti, Simone Kessell, Roimata Fox, Ria Te Uira Paki, Poroaki Merritt-McDonald
Screened at: Critics’ link, CA, 9/01/22
Opens: September 10th, 2022 (Toronto International Film Festival)
The opening titles of Muru make it clear that this is a response, not a recreation, of a deadly government raid on a M?ori group branded and targeted as terrorists. While this story is deeply personal and meaningful to the M?ori people of New Zealand, it also has a strong resonance for a colonial misunderstanding of other cultures. Most powerfully, through its protagonist, Taffy, it presents a vision for what a defunded police force could and should look like. Taffy spends just as much time each day driving kids and adults on the local bus as he does any actual police work, and, in every situation, he focuses not on making an arrest or exacting punishment but instead working to find a productive solution that can help offenders stay on the right track. It’s a startlingly simple concept that would unfortunately be difficult to enact given the way that Taffy is seen by the government as in collusion with the alleged terrorist cell rather than a member of the community seeking to preserve and better it as only as insider truly can.
But this film is not a fantasy, and as a result is portrays the rush to swift, decisive action rather than a carefully calculated approach. That mixed with an unwillingness to admit mistakes is a brutal and irreversible combination, one with horrifying consequences for the targeted population and few repercussions for the “shoot first, ask questions later” tactic that inevitably leads to someone innocent being shot when just a few questions could have prevented the entire thing.
Among the most effective elements of Muru is the central performance from Cliff Curtis. Taffy has gotten into a certain routine, one that finds him anticipating mundane delays to his day and emphasizing checking in on his father regularly, even if it means driving a substantial distance to interrupt his other responsibilities. His discovery of government monitoring prompts him to reach out and express his displeasure about not having been notified about an operation within his community, but he also makes the crucial mistake of believing that he is regarded as on the same level. His weighing of how much to cooperate with those authorities to prevent an escalation of the situation is complex and burdensome, and Curtis wears that in his portrayal. His growing dismay with the destructive turn of events is also passionately conveyed.
Muru is at once many different things, bringing this unfortunate story of the persecution of an indigenous population to the screen while also exploring those who perpetrated it. As is often the case, many are ostensibly good people merely doing their jobs, but the emergence of their consciences come tragically too late to have a felt impact. The person in charge of authorizing missions and spur-of-the-moment changes sits behind a computer screen and is most concerned with covering himself at all turns rather than exploring the most peaceful resolution for all. Glaringly, it’s one foot soldier’s sudden turn to violence that sends things over the edge, yet his behavior is somehow excused even though he has displayed far less control and caused much more damage than the supposed threat ever did.
Muru is an essential cautionary tale, one that underlines the necessity of appreciating all communities and cultural and religious groups for what they are rather than trying to analyze or change them. This is not an isolated power dynamic, and attempts to preserve a centuries-old way of life are not automatically regressive and dangerous. Muru pays powerful tribute to its community leaders and even its less stable members, since no one should be written off as troublesome or in need of rehabilitation because of where they grew up and the people with whom they associate. This is a vital and impactful film with a resonant message for any audience.
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+