Man in the Middle

The Convert

by George Wolf

Director and co-writer Lee Tamahori lets us know that for 500 years, the Māori were “edged weapon” warriors. Then, the 1800s brought them muskets, and Christianity.

You can guess how that worked out.

In The Convert, Tamahori brings us into their world via Thomas Munro (Guy Pearce, solid), a lay minister who has accepted an assignment as Chaplain of Epworth, a British colony on New Zealand.

After years in the British army, Munro has a new commitment to mercy, and it almost immediately puts him squarely between two Māori warlords still committed to blood.

One Chief sends young Rangimai (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne) and Pahirua (Duane Evans Jr.) to live in Epworth and be mentored by Munro. While the opposing Chief plots an invasion to take back the land he feels is his, Munro quickly finds how deeply the bigotry grows in little Epworth.

New Zealander Tamahori (The Edge, Next, Die Another Day) shows a strong respect for authenticity in casting, language and customs of the Māori people. But as we learn more about why Munro “converted” from a soldier to a man of peace, a strong Dances With Wolves vibe clouds the more compelling history of these two rival tribes.

Some worthy (and timely) points are made about wars between “have-nots” only serving the “haves,” but while the film never goes full-on white savior, you wonder how it would have benefitted from a less pale point of view.

Munro’s arc isn’t frivolous, but neither is it fresh. The emotional pull here is clearly with the Māori, and it’s a shame The Convert is content to make them side players.

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