Film Review: ‘Kuleana’ presents an interesting take on problems of the past

“Kuleana” travels back 50 years to a conflicted time period, presenting the problems a militarized Maui struggled with during that time.

The story begins with the storytelling voice of Nohea Kanekoa (Moronai Kanekoa) and his story of growing up with a Hawaiian family on Maui during the late 1940s/early 1950s. The scene also introduces another main character, Kimberly Coyle (played by Kealani Warner as Kimberly is a child in the movie), who is Nohea’s best friend through his childhood. Nohea begins to describe his father, Bill Kanekoa (Kainoa Horcajo), and the role he played in bringing a sense of Hawaiian values into the household.

The movie then takes the viewers into the 1970s and a changing Maui community. Nohea has lost a part of his leg fighting in the Vietnam War for the United States. A tense scene is set when a wealthy businessman, Victor Coyle (Stefan C. Schaefer), tries to buy land off of the Kanekoa family. This scene begins to dive into the problem with the housing market during the ’70s in Hawaii and how the native families were being bought out by richer parties to make money off of the land. This eventually leads to the conflict of culture within Nohea as he has to make the decision to sell the land or keep his kuleana (responsibility) to protect family land.

In interviews about the movie, filmmakers focused on the fact that the cast was all from Hawaii. It is good to give roles to local talent to showcase the type of actors we have here in Hawaii. The level of acting was mostly good for the totality of cast being from Hawaii.

However, there were certain characters that played a monotonous role, not heavily contributing to the storyline. For example, the character of Victor Coyle played a heavy role in the plot. Having said that, the way he was portrayed was of a typical evil villain where there could be much more room for uniqueness and character. On the other side of the spectrum, there were some actors that made the movie very interesting and kept me interested with the plot.

There were certain scenes where the camera appeared to switch with another kind of camera as the picture quality changed dramatically. For example, a paddling scene changed from a high quality image to a blurry, pixelated type of look. This change in quality was not good and tampered with the viewing experience, especially when watching it on the big screen.

One problem I had with some of the scene work was the continuity errors found throughout the movie. These errors happen when the scenes do not match up with objects in the shot. For example, Kimberly is walking with birds of paradise in the recollection of Nohea’s memories. It then switches to her walking with a banana leaf and then switches back to the flowers. These kinds of errors are the kind that are usually minuscule and cannot be caught by a bigger audience.

When mentioning the camera work, the shots in the film did a great job to keep the focus on key objects to diminish the attention to the continuity errors and some of the awkward scenes. It really helped to keep the viewers locked onto the important dialogue of the scenes which provided a lot of the information needed to understand each situation.

The plot was very strong and had quite an interesting story to follow. In terms of cultural relativity, the plot stayed very close to what was happening to some Hawaiians at the time of the setting and how the fight for land became very prevalent on all of the islands. What could have been added was more emphasis on how bad the bombing of Kahoolawe was for the people of Maui (especially to the Hawaiian population). There was only background scenes of the island being bombed or the situation being briefly described in the characters’ conversations. Even though Kahoolawe was a major setting for some of the scenes, there was no explaination of what it meant to the people.

“Kuleana” creates an interesting mystery that keeps viewers captured while also staying relative to the culture of Hawaii.

My Grade: B-
Rated: PG-13
Length: 1 hour 35 minutes
Genre: Drama
Directed by: Brian Kohne
Starring: Moronai Kanekoa, Kristina Anapau, Sonya Balmores