River Queen (Vincent Ward) 39 – There’s an impressive budget behind this New Zeland-set war film, and it’s all put up on screen. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat lacking in its cohesiveness. A completely exhausting narration (provided by star Samantha Morton) attempts to compensate for the fact that the movie is trying to cover way more ground than it should in so brief a runtime. Telling the story of an Irish woman who heads into hostile territory to find her kidnapped half-Maori son, the film has an incredible amount of narrative incident. Morton is to be commended for making emotional sense out of a character whose complex motivations change constantly. She’s the closest thing to an anchor that this hopelessly adrift movie has.
Ward is an intelligent director who tends to nonetheless make major slip ups in his films. Here he fully resists turning the Maori people into noble savages (their chief is a womanizer, for example) and resists moments of heroism in his battle sequences, only to indulge in some seriously stale chick flick clichés. The whole movie seems too tightly centered on its protagonist’s point of view to achieve the epic feel that’s being attempted.