This ain't no Free Willy kid flick. Actually, this New Zealand import is a modern retelling of a Maori legend, which states that the firstborn son of a coastal tribe's chief will become the new leader. When that firstborn son turns out to be a girl (Keisha Castle-Hughes), the tradition's lineage is broken and a long conflict ensues between the young girl and her stern, traditional grandfather (Rawiri Paratene), who blocks her efforts and rejects her destiny at every turn.
Based on a bestselling novel, the film is beautifully shot and movingly told without cheap sentiment or reliance on cute kid antics. In fact, in a cast of veteran New Zealand actors, newcomer Castle-Hughes gives one of the strongest, least affected performances so far this year. This whale of a film will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best films of 2003.