Written and directed by Tearepa Kahi, MURU tells the story of ‘Taffy’ Tawharau (Cliff Curtis), a Maori police sergeant who spends his time in relative quiet. Caring for his ailing father and driving a school bus, Taffy is a respected voice in the community. Though, unbeknownst to Taffy, trouble is brewing as the government has their area under surveillance for potential terrorist threats. The current focus of their investigation is Tame Iti, a Maori rights activist who yearns to help his people reclaim their identity. Meeting around the campfire to inspire those who will listen, Iti is believed to be the leader of a home-grown terrorist cell and the tensions bubbling under the surface soon begin to boil over.
Based on the true story of the raids against New Zealand’s indigenous population, MURU is an intense thriller that demands attention and response. From start to finish, Kahi unleashes his story with passion and heat. This is a film with a heart for justice that’s packaged in the form of a gripping action piece. Although the film plays with some of the historical nature of the events, MURU reveals the damage caused by an oppressive government over the past century that have left irreparable scars on the Moari people.
Leading the way are some wonderful performances by its cast, especially that of Curtis and Jay Ryan. As Taffy, Curtis reveals the humility and humanity of his character as he attempts to reconcile his own emotional conflict. At the same time, Ryan brings a conflicted strength to military leader, Gallagher. Gallagher is a man whose responsibility is to the job yet, as the film progresses, he, too, must decide with the ramifications what he is willing to do when the mission no longer makes any sense. As things begin to escalate, the chemistry between the two actors helps draw out the brokenness of the situation by exposing the unfair
In a lot of ways, MURU is a rallying cry for an indigenous population that continues to fight for their voice to be heard. Misunderstood by the military and the government, they are viewed as criminals through the lens of toxicity and racial bias. This is a world where carrying a broom to clean up your mess can be considered a concealed weapon and family disputes are viewed with ire by a government that does not understand. Interestingly, MURU is wise to be told in both English and their native language, as this is very much a film about the damage created by a lack of communication. Armed by their own flawed perceptions, the New Zealand government had created their own narrative about live amongst the Indigenous population long before the raids began. Although they espoused the desire to ‘keep the peace’, their selfish interests and false beliefs shaded their judgment and prevented any opportunity for them to build bridges between the two cultures. MURU catches this tension beautifully by highlighting misunderstandings that escalated into violence instead of creating spaces for conversation.
What ensues is a tension that causes issues between both worlds and several of its main characters appear torn between two sides. The best example of this within the film remains Taffy, the indigenous police officer whose life is torn between his culture and his badge. Although he believes in justice, what he witnesses forces him to make a choice. Caught between his demands as an officer of the law and his commitment to his people who are being oppressed, Taffy wants to live with integrity yet struggles to know what that means. As MURU blurs the lines between right and wrong, so too does it acknowledge the need for police protection while also showing the horrific reality of police brutality.
In this way, MURU wears its heart on its sleeve, crying out for justice in a place where there is none.
To hear our conversation with Tearepa Kahi, Cliff Curtis and Jay Ryan, click here.
MURU premiered at TIFF ’22. For more information, click here.