Australian actor Essie Davis (The Babadook) and rising Kiwi star Thomasin McKenzie anchor this empathetic New Zealand drama.
Davis plays the title character, who earns money cleaning windscreens at an intersection. Having previously spent time in jail, Bunny is trying to get her life together enough so she can regain custody of her children, currently in foster care.
Bunny lives with her sister's family, sleeping on the couch in exchange for helping out with child care and cooking. The biggest hindrance to Bunny getting her kids back is the lack of proper place to live, which allows the film to speak directly to New Zealand's housing crisis.
When Bunny discovers that her teenage niece Tonyah (McKenzie) is being abused by her sister's husband, she instinctively gets Tonyah out of harm's way, and the pair set themselves up in an empty apartment, a short-term solution that gives way to further problems.
Director Gayson Thavat (also credited with the story) and screenwriter Sophie Henderson (Baby Done) appear to be taking inspiration from the working-class social advocacy movies by acclaimed English filmmaker Ken Loach.
So while it's not exactly a barrel of laughs, The Justice of Bunny King has a huge heart, as embodied an absolute powerhouse of performance from Davis, who does a great job of projecting a sense of beaten-down resilience, even if her Kiwi accent raises an eyebrow on occasion. McKenzie (who is currently also in cinemas in M Night Shyalaman's Old) gets to speak in her native intonation for a change and brings the kind of effortless authenticity that shows why she's in such high demand.
Some of the interactions presented here feel a little strained, but that doesn't undermine the film's goal of getting its audience to consider the plight of society's forgotten battlers.
Cast: Essie Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Ryan O'Kane
Director: Gaysorn Thavat
Running time: 101minutes
Rating: M (Domestic abuse themes, violence & offensive language)
Verdict: A generously conceived, beautifully compassionate film