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  • Alex First

Savage (MA) - 100 minutes

Brutal. Devastating. Powerful.

A war of attrition borne of a rough, tyrannical upbringing in New Zealand told in three timeframes over 24 years, from 1965.

That is Savage – Savages being the name given to a patched-up gang started by a couple of cell mates in juvenile detention once they ran away together.

But let’s go back a step, Danny (known in the gang as Damage, Moses – the leader’s – right hand man or Sergeant, an enforcer with scary facial tattoos), came from a big family whose father had a vicious temper, which was easily set off.

After breaking into a shop and stealing, he was sent to juvie, where the overseer used violence in an effort to control the kids.

Once Danny and Moses get onto the streets they quickly realise how difficult it is to survive.

It is actually Moses’ idea to start a gang, after he spots the pubic reaction to another patched mob.

Thereafter, members of the Savages – which quickly swells in number – hang out together, drink, fight and exact punishment at Moses’ instigation.

As I mentioned earlier, Danny (by now known as Damage) is the man to ensure others are put in their place.

And that includes a run-in with his brother Liam, whom he hadn’t seen in years and is now a member of a rival gang.

The result of that is ugly.

Also in the fray is a young recruit to the Savages, known as a prospect, who receives punishment in order to toughen him up.

Damage more than once faces a moral dilemma – leave the Savages and join his brother’s rival gang and, later, simply leave the Savages full stop.

But Moses’ influence appears all powerful, although Moses’ respect within the Savages is fast waning.

Testosterone-filled Savage doesn’t hold back in painting a searing portrait of the consequences of verbal and physical abuse.

The message is clear – violence begets violence and becomes a vicious circle.

And all of that leads where? Nowhere … because the stock in trade is fear mongering.

Three actors fill the respective key roles of Moses and Danny/Damage.

It is undoubtedly Jake Ryan (The Sapphires) as Damage in his mid 30s who has most impact.

Complete with striking facial tattoos, his characterisation is that of a man possessed and torn asunder by a life which has amounted to nothing.

Damage is caught between a rock and a hard place.

As Liam says at one point, he has become a chip off the old block – significantly more hard core, if truth be known.

Writer and director Sam Kelly has painted a powerful portrait of the soul-destroying nature of gang life.

The film was inspired by the stories and history of New Zealand’s violent street gangs.

The decision to move back and forth through three time periods was a masterful one.

Savage is a film that has impact and resonance and won’t easily be forgotten.

Rated MA, it scores a 7½ out of 10.

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