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Film / Utu

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Utu is a 1983 New Zealand Western, directed by Geoff Murphy.

In the 1860s, after the murder of his family by colonial forces, Māori Army Scout Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) starts a rebellion against the British. Opposing him are:

  • Col. Elliot (Tim Elliot)
  • Lt. Scott (Kelly Johnson)
  • Cpl. Wiremu (Wi Kuku Kaa), a loyalist Māori
  • Williamson (Bruno Lawrence), a British settler
  • The loyalist Māori and the British troops

Utu contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Girl: Emily, Williamson's wife, shoots at least three Māori which is significantly more than her husband. She comes pretty close to ambushing Te Wheke and uses the explosion to almost escape him afterward - also she steps in front of him to prevent him from shooting her husband ( who to be fair was riding to try and rescue her ).
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Downplayed. The upper class British Colonel is a Lord; he's arrogant and condescending, but he fights bravely enough and after his carelessness almost causes a disaster he is willing to listen to those who know best.
  • Armies Are Evil: Subverted. Although many of the white officers are bastards, the enlisted men are Māori who oppose the rebellion. Cpl. Wiremu is the brother of rebel leader Te Wheke.
  • Avenging the Villain: Wiremu shoots the Colonel as a pre-emptive act of vengeance for Te Wheke's impending execution.
  • Badass Long Coat: Te Wheke wears a stolen army overcoat and Williamson wears a duster coat.
  • Batman Gambit: Te Wheke tosses the preacher a loaded gun, knowing full well that his victim would hesitate to use it. This gives Te Wheke enough time to decapitate the minister with an axe.
    Te Wheke: Would I give you a loaded gun? [kills him] Of course I would!
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Te Wheke's tribe are massacred by British troops at the beginning of the movie. In turn, his own followers commit many atrocities against the white settlers.
  • Black Face: A Māori smears flour on his face to impersonate a white man.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Subverted. The exception is the elderly Witch Doctor who wears the traditional Māori grass skirt and feathers when tattooing Te Wheke.
  • The Captain: Lt. Scott is given command of a small commando squad.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: The upper class Lt. Scott and the Noble Savage Cpl. Wiremu.
  • Cain and Abel:
    • Te Wheke clubs his sister Kura to death for loving a white man, and wrongly assumes she betrayed them.
    • Wiremu later executes his brother Te Wheke to end the circle of vengeance.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Wiremu's son does this before defecting to the rebels.
  • Cavalry Officer: Lt. Scott and Col. Elliot lead a charge on horseback.
  • Colonel Kilgore: Elliot becomes increasingly ruthless in his quest to capture Te Wheke.
  • David Versus Goliath: In their first battle, the Māori rebels are armed with flintlock muskets, shotguns and clubs. They soon capture modern cartridge rifles from the defeated British.
  • Determined Homesteader: Williamson was once a wealthy farmer, before Te Wheke murdered his wife and burned his house.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Kura is murdered by Te Wheke for helping her lover Scott escape, and for allegedly warning the British of the attack.
  • Earthy Barefoot Character: Kura goes barefoot to signify her youthful innocence and closeness to nature.
  • The Empire: The British colonial administration wants to plunder New Zealand's natural resources, and recruits some Māori warriors to wipe out the other tribes opposing them.
  • Evil Brit: The Colonel is an upper class Englishman who commits atrocities in the name of Queen Victoria.
  • Gun Porn: Williamson tests his self-built gun by shooting up a building.
  • The Gunslinger: Williamson relies on the firepower from his unique four-barreled shotgun.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: A rare villainous example. Wiremu's son tries to defect to the rebels, but Te Wheke rejects him.
  • Hero Antagonist: Scott is a reasonably decent man, and is respected by his troops.
  • Hollywood Natives: Subverted. The Māori wear European-style clothing and use advanced modern firearms.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The Colonel treats his pursuit of Te Wheke like a fox hunt.
  • Indian Maiden: Kura walking barefoot, enjoying being chased in the forest, having a love affair with Scott, and participating in the rebellion.
  • Ironic Echo: The minister's sermon is reused by Te Wheke :
    Te Wheke: He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword.
  • It's Personal: Becoming a vengeful widower, Williamson sets out to kill Te Wheke.
  • Klingon Promotion: As the last surviving British officer, Scott ends up in command.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Wiremu does this to the brutal Colonel, and blames it on the rebels.
  • Mugged for Disguise: The Māori rebels steal the uniforms of dead British soldiers, and use them to infiltrate the stockade.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: As a soldier, Wiremu swore an oath to obey Queen Victoria. This is his reason to remain loyal to the British.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Wiremu and the loyalist Māori are Kupapa who allied with the British during the earlier tribal wars. Even today, there is strong royalist sentiment among many Māori, to the point that many are opposed to New Zealand becoming a republic.note 
  • Noble Demon: Te Wheke will eagerly massacre white settlers, but he respects brave warriors of every race. He spares the life of wounded Lt. Scott so they can fight again on equal terms.
  • Non-Uniform Uniform: Many of the rebels wear army overcoats taken as war trophies.
  • Preacher Man: Te Wheke beheads a minister then preaches his own "sermon" from the pulpit.
  • Rebel Leader: Te Wheke recruits other disillusioned Māori to turn his personal vendetta against the Colonel into a full-blown anti-colonialist revolution.
  • Red Shirt: The British redcoat troops are expendable, and relatively easy for the rebel Māori to kill.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Wiremu's son is shunned by Te Wheke for betraying his British superiors, and is later tracked down and shot by Williamson.
  • The Savage Indian: Villain Protagonist Te Wheke wants to kill every white person in New Zealand, including unarmed women and children.
  • Savage South: New Zealand is represented as a harsh tropical jungle.
  • Scary Black Man: White settlers scream and run at the sight of Te Wheke.
  • Sergeant Rock: Wiremu has a duty to protect his commander, because Scott was born in New Zealand. As a Māori elder who previously fought in the Musket Wars, Wiremu is also A Father to His Men, many of whom are members of his tribe.
  • Tattoo as Character Type: Te Wheke's full face tattoo identifies him as a warrior.
  • Tentacled Terror: Not literally, but Te Wheke is a fearsome warrior whose name is Māori for “octopus” or “squid”.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The Māori rebels massacre white women and children, and even other Māori who won't join their rebellion.
  • This Means Warpaint: Te Wheke's warrior tattoo is a variant of this.
  • The Western: The Māori represent the Indians, and the British are the Cavalry.
  • Title Drop:
    • Utu is a Māori concept about reciprocity, and to some extent, about revenge. Used twice in that context, when Matu tries to execute Te Wheke at the end:
      Matu: For you, this is a court of military law. For me, it is blood for blood. Utu.
    • And when Wiremu explains the Cycle of Revenge which led to Te Wheke's rebellion, and then to Williamson going after him:
      Wiremu : And you, who claim Utu for the death of your wife...
    • It is also implied to be the reason Lt. Scott would want to kill Te Wheke, to take revenge after he killed Kura and got him injured twice.
  • Wicked Cultured: Te Wheke identifies himself with Macbeth.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Subverted. After the defeat of the rebels, Wiremu executes his younger brother Te Wheke.
  • You Have Failed Me: Te Wheke shoots one of his underlings for failing to capture the town.
  • You Killed My Father: The uncle of Te Wheke and Wiremu was among the villagers killed in the Colonel's attack on the village.