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A Taxing Story: We’re Here To Help
Reviewed by Simon Sweetman
THIS NEW Kiwi film is released nationwide November 8. And you need to see it. Why? Because you’re a New Zealander and this could have happened to you! Or because you’re a New Zealander and this could happen to someone you know! Thank god the director didn’t take that approach. But it could have been one way to present the material.
We’re Here To Help is based on the true story of Christchurch businessman Dave Henderson, who, in 1994 took on the Inland Revenue. And got caught up in a nasty mess that took several years to resolve – and cost Henderson the shirt off his back. So, this story, already told in book form, by Henderson, as Be Very Afraid, was picked up by Whale Rider producer John Barnett and has wisely been told as a humourous, quirky tale of the classic Kiwi battler; the little guy taking on the big machine.
It’s a great movie, not an attempt to tap in to the Australian version of the little guy battling back (as with The Castle or Kenny), but there is plenty of humour. The IRD are made to look rather silly, but a lot of it is based on real-life experiences; not just Henderson’s. We’ve all had that situation of being kept on hold and then passed around to play phone tag with government departments. And plenty of humour derives from such scenes. Also, the casting is superb. As Henderson, Australian-based Erik Thomson makes a welcome return to local screens (after a decade working in Australian films like Somersault and The Black Balloon and appearing in Aussie TV shows MDA, All Saints and Through My Eyes).
Thomson manages to attract audience sympathy – but there’s that idea always in the background that this character might actually be a bit shady. He’s being investigated by the tax department. Yes, it all starts in retaliation to Henderson taking offence to the way his girlfriend is treated in what should be a routine pick-up/drop-off scenario. He then goes and threatens the hapless staff member that was making inappropriate, suggestive comments. And everything snowballs. But was there something in the background that Henderson never lets on in his book? That was never let out in the newspaper clippings? I like the fact that Thomson expresses a playfulness, a cheekiness that could be hiding something. We assume – by the end of the film – that he was not. But I like the devil in that detail.
The piece of casting that everyone will talk about is Michael Hurst as Rodney Hide, unrecognisable in this film as either himself or Hide. But, this great actor settles in to the role and nails Hide’s mannerisms. Rodney was crucial to the story in that he was a young, eager MP keen to make his own big splash in the political pool. He took on Henderson’s story and took it to parliament, helping with the crusade.
The supporting cast (John Leigh, Jason Hoyte, Stephen Papps) all have fun playing blundering bureaucrats. Their ineptness is covered over by a nastiness that is often palpable – particularly with Papps (fresh from his brilliant portrayal of Don Brash in the play The Hollow Men).
David Long’s evocative score channels Henderson’s search for escapism surfing at the beach, for his dream to be free from all of this insanity. And the swift pacing of the film, jumping over the Cook Strait from Christchurch to Wellington and back, means that it is never slow; a comedy-of-errors that has a hint of political thriller about it.
You could go to We’re Here To Help because it could have happened to anyone, and because it did happen to someone. But you should go to We’re Here To Help because it is a very good movie. And if you need another reason, then consider this irony: tax-payers money went towards funding it. For a hint of egg on face, I’d say that’s the best money we’ll ever spend.
» Jonothan Cullinane | NZ | 2007 | 114 min | Featuring: Miriama Smith, Erik Thomson, Michael Hurst, John Leigh, Peter Elliott, Greg Johnson. IN THEATRES NOV 8.