New Zealand's unique brand of gang culture is the backdrop for this thoughtful character drama more interested in exploring the longterm effects of childhood abuse than the broader activities or impact of our street gangs.
In 1989, Damage (Aussie actor Jake Ryan) is the second-in-command of the Savages gang, led by his best mate Moses (John Tui). Although the first thing we see Damage do is mete out some brutal hammer-related punishment to an insubordinate member, we are principally exposed to the brotherly bond between the Savages as they hang out drinking and singing late into the night.
We then flash back to Damage's childhood in 1965, when he was still known as Danny. Part of a large family with a brutal, violent father, Danny is sent to live in a boys home after one too many scrapes. There he is sexually abused and first encounters the awesomely brash Moses. Living on the street as teenagers several years later, Danny and Moses decide to start their own gang, but Danny's loyalties are tested when he re-encounters his brother, a member of a rival gang.
Back in 1989, Damage struggles with abuse-related intimacy issues, attempts to reconnect with his family and seeks to help a young prospect escape the gang life.
While there isn't much in the film quite as extreme as the giant facial tattoo the grown-up Damage sports (as seen on the poster), it remains an admirably unflinching look at some of the less spoken-about aspects of New Zealand society. Ryan and Tui have fantastic chemistry, even if the adult Moses remains a little unknowable.
This isn't a definitive account of New Zealand gang culture, nor is it trying to be. It's cautious about glamorising gang life, but makes salient observations about the appeal it holds for disenfranchised youth.
Cast: Jake Ryan, John Tui
Director: Sam Kelly
Running time: 99 minutes
Rating: R16 (Violence, cruelty, offensive language & sexual references)
Verdict: An affecting, beautifully-acted local drama with well-crafted authenticity and grit.