By William Engel
A powerful story of one man’s task to clear his family name and save his family’s property.
The film follows Nohea Kanekoa (Moronai Kanekoa), a one-legged war veteran who finds himself in a desperate bid to save his ancestral homeland. His ailing grandmother (Marlene Sai) owes thousands of dollars in property taxes, and a predatory real estate mogul named Victor Coyle (Stefan C. Schaefer) is offering to buy the property and cover the taxes for him – an offer that Nohea finds increasingly difficult to refuse. While all of this is going on, Nohea’s estranged father is under investigation for the disappearance of Victor’s daughter, Kimberly (Sonya Balmores), a childhood friend of Nohea’s who went missing roughly twenty years ago.
The film is carried by several strong, memorable performances from its main cast. The most notable one comes from Stefan C. Schaefer as the villainous Victor Coyle. With his subtle, understated performance, Schafer portrays Victor as exactly the kind of amoral businessman audiences love to hate – stubborn, uncompromising, and emotionally aloof. Marlene Sai is also quite entertaining as Nohea’s quirky yet passionate grandmother, and Kristina Anapau gives a heartbreakingly vulnerable performance as Kimberly’s emotionally broken mother.
The film has a few flaws, though, most notably in the editing. Scenes are often edited erratically, breaking up the flow of the movie; after an intense scene in which the town detective interrogates Nohea about Kimberly’s disappearance, the film inexplicably cuts to some footage of some fire dancers before returning to the main plot. During several of the dialogue scenes, the editor leaves little to no space between one actor’s lines and the others, making the scenes difficult to keep up with. This is particularly problematic during the scenes meant to provide exposition.
Emotionally, the film is at its most powerful when it slows down and lets itself breathe. There’s a particularly gripping scene about three-quarters of the way through, in which Nohea tells Kimberly that her mother died while she was away. Kimberly’s emotional breakdown upon hearing the news is nothing short of heart-wrenching.
Overall, despite its imperfections, Kuleana is a thrilling, emotionally charged adventure that you’re not going to want to miss. Kuleana, is set and filmed in Hawaii. It will hits theaters March 30th