The big Hollywood blockbuster has well and truly returned to New Zealand cinemas. No, this is not The Justice of Bunny King, a modestly made custody drama, but it is representative of the films it is up against. Black Widow is holding strong, Dom Toretto in F9 is still all about family and Jungle Cruise is the new multiplex favourite. But there is a place for New Zealand cinema amongst these monolithic studio titles as The Justice of Bunny King, Gaysorn Thavat’s directorial debut (remember the name), has more heart than any of these films. With shades of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake and Sydney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon the film unfolds with great dynacism as Bunny King (Essie Davis) battles the system with the help of her niece Tonyah (Thomasin McKenzie) to be reunited with her two children.
The weight of The Justice of Bunny King falls on Davis’s and McKenzie’s performances and together they soar to great heights together: Davis as the maverick lead bursting with raw emotion and McKenzie as the quiet, understated sidekick. These performances, accompanied by Ginny Loane’s sumptuous cinematography and Karl Steven’s gripping score, make The Justice of Bunny King a film to watch for these elements alone. The film stumbles slightly, however, as the script doesn’t stand still long enough to peer deep enough into so many of the ills facing New Zealand today that it’s concerned with. By briefly touching on these issues, The Justice of Bunny King feels shallow as the cold reality of social realism is awkwardly brushed aside for heartwarming moments and a resolution that feels too idyllic to be grounded in any sense of truth. So, when the credits roll, you can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed and disappointed.
“Has its flaws, but announces the arrival of a director who has a bright future ahead of her.”