Whilst most movies like to depict the New Zealand landscape as lush and a beautiful setting to discover – and, by all means, it absolutely is – writer/director Sam Kelly has opted for a more realistic approach with Savage, taking on the seedy underbelly as it focuses on gang leader Danny (Jake Ryan) and the three pivotal moments in his life that transformed him from a young boy starving for attention to the ruthless enforcer he is as a grown up.
Managing to navigate the flashback trope with relative ease, Kelly continues the momentum for the most part, only occasionally breaking his visceral flow, administering a sense of entertainment throughout; well, as entertaining as a violent, profanity-heavy crime drama can be. There’s a reality adhered to, something that makes Savage incredibly uncomfortable at times, yet in the same instance exactly what keeps the film as investing as it is.
As much as the film is based on true stories, there’s a certain difficulty in having anything new to say. Kelly by no means is a slouch in the script department, and the film isn’t ripping any other similarly-themed movies off, it just covers familiar ground in terms of Danny’s ultimate loyalty, and the violence, regrets, and tragedies that have plagued much of his existence.
Familiar it may be, Savage expresses a strong sense of emotion throughout, and the performances assist in the narrative proving as watchable as it is. Ryan as the adult Danny is terrifying, but he communicates a sense of sadness behind his eyes that make his character surprisingly sympathetic. Olly Presling and James Matamua both deliver fine performances too as, respectively, Danny as a young child and as a teenager. The abuse he was subjected to as a child clearly hardening his psyche as he aged, with each performer injecting the character with their own personality, which manages to make him a wholly uniformed character. Next to Danny, the character of Moses proves Savage‘s most intriguing presence, with John Tui injecting a similar understandable yet terrifying ethos into the character as Danny’s most trusted companion.
Being so sure in his ability as a storyteller, Kelly’s confidence is ultimately what shines through in Savage, with the film overcoming any narrative awareness thanks to its heart and organic nature, anchored by natural performances that both soften and harden the edges when called for.
Savage is now available to rent or buy physically or digitally in Australia. It’s also available now to stream on Stan. It will be released January 29th in the US on digital and ON DEMAND.