(director/writer: Sam Kelly; cinematographer: James L. Brown; editor: Peter Roberts; music: Arli Liberman; cast: Jake Ryan (Damage), John Tui (Moses), Erroll Shand (Josh), Chelsie Preston Crayford (Flo), Alex Raivaru (Tug), Olly Presling (Young Danny), James Matamua (Teen Danny), Haanz Fa’avae Jackson (Teen Moses), Lotina Pome’e (Young Moses), Poroaki McDonald (Red), Jack Parker (Teen Liam), Seth Flynn (Liam), Dominic Ona-Ariki (Dice); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Vicky Pope; Domino Films; 2019-UK)

There’s nothing novel about this gang movie, but in its rawness it gets the brutality right and makes for a gritty watch.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The directorial debut of New Zealand filmmaker Sam Kelly is for a film whose gang theme has been seen too often to show anything new. It’s a true story about NZ’s violent gang history (Kelly tracked gangs down to get their story) of the last thirty years. It follows one rough gang leader, Damage (Jack Ryan as an adult, James Matamua as a a teen, Olly Presling as a youngster), through three phases of his life, as it veers back and forth between his formative time periods.

In the opening scene Damage, an established gang enforcer, in 1989, whose face is covered in tattoos, as he smashes the hand of gang member Dice (Dominic Ona-Ariki) as a punishment for a misdeed. It then cuts to 1965, where Damage is a white gang newcomer to a Maori biker gang. He’s involved in a power struggle between Moses (John Tui) and Tug (Alex Raivaru), siding with Moses. At the time, he meets the privileged Flo (Chelsie Preston Crayford) and has an awkward romantic encounter with her

A further flashback to the 1960s takes us back to when Damage was known as Danny as a child. He was growing up in an abusive home in a backwater town with a miserable farmer father. Because of his dysfunctional home, he’s placed in a state-run boy’s home. With his Maori roommate, Moses (Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson), they start in 1972 a gang called the Savages. Moses is president and Damage is the enforcer.

The bleak drama captures the country’s early racism during its colonial period and authentically depicts the gangs. There’s nothing novel about this gang movie, but in its rawness it gets the brutality right and makes for a gritty watch.

It ends with Damage questioning his role in life as an enforcer and for being so loyal to his bad guy friend Moses and, also, losing track of his real family–except for the brother Liam (Seth Flynn) he tries to help.

Though authentic, nothing fresh is squeezed out of it.

Savage - BIFF - Publicxity - H 2019

REVIEWED ON 2/4/2021  GRADE:  B-