The stoic mysticism of Niki Caro's cool-handed charmer '' Whale Rider'' -- in which the young Pai must overcome resistance as she tries to assume her destiny as the leader of a tribe on the New Zealand coast -- is wickedly absorbing.
Much of the film's power comes from the delicate charisma of Keisha Castle-Hughes, making her acting debut as Pai. Castle-Hughes lacks the traditional resources of an actress, and instead communicates her feelings through a wary hesitation.
Pai's natural rectitude -- the way she plays both pride and hurt -- is even used by Ms. Pai's prickly grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) displays a contempt for her that is like a deadpan force of nature itself.
Koro, the tribal chief, wanted a grandson to take on his mantle.
Caro and her cinematographer, Leon Narbey, let the audience be seduced by the daunting power, rather than overwhelming viewers with it.
With a deft hand, the director bridges the disconnect between the modern touches in the village -- like the hilarious, cranky chatter over card games -- and the determination to cling to traditions.Too flamboyant an opening would have left the movie with no place to go and embarrassed us with so early a claim on our sentiments. WITH: Keisha Castle-Hughes (Pai), Rawiri Paratene (Koro), Vicky Haughton (Nanny Flowers) and Cliff Curtis (Porourangi).Bear with '' Whale Rider'': once the picture kicks into gear, it has the inspiring resonance of found art.'' Whale Rider'' is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for scenes of emotional cruelty that may be a little upsetting for younger viewers. Caro, based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera; director of photography, Leon Narbey; edited by David Coulson; music by Lisa Gerrard; production designer, Grant Major; produced by Tim Sanders, John Barnett and Frank Hubner; released by Newmarket Films. But Pai's twin brother died in a difficult birth, which also took her mother's life, and her father, Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), has deserted the family for a career as an artist.Koro treats his granddaughter as the living embodiment of a curse.From the beginning of the movie, Pai The viewer soon learns that she has many qualities that seem to ...Every culture has it’s own traditions and many of the times these traditions are broken when new generations are born.It is evident that tradition is the way the Whangara tribe maintains its spirituality, which defines it.The critical moment comes in a set piece that has the potential to send the film off into florid, find-your-bliss sentimentality: a whale cruises too close to the shoreline and needs to be steered back into deeper, life-sustaining waters. Caro refuses to oversaturate the film with anxious hyperdramatics.The film shows strength by tightening the rhythms of the scenes; be warned that the longueurs that surface in the first 10 minutes or so may make demands on your patience. Caro and her editor, David Coulson, obviously wanted to dissipate any feeling of forced pathos that might accompany the intense tragedy experienced by Pai's family. Caro's attempt to fight the mawkishness inherent in the film's opening by setting a tone of emotional tidiness makes the rest of '' Whale Rider'' distinctively efficient; this gamble makes the first section seem distended and a little drab.It's a welcome exercise of taste on the director's part. Curtis's total immersion in the role of Pai's father rescues him from the typecasting of his previous work -- playing dark-skinned bad guys of indeterminate ethnicity. Still, there aren't many filmmakers who would have fought that initial heightening of heartbreak.