War, The/B+,A
Universal/1994/126m/ANA 185
The War exhibits a remarkable sensibility in capturing one dramatic summer of childhood in rural Mississippi during the height of the Vietnam War. It works magnificently when it sticks with the purity and simplicity of its vision on this level, but, if it is indeed attempting an allegorical pass at the futility of the Vietnam War, it falls short of the same insight.
     Most of the film is simply splendid. Director Jon Avnet returns again to the deep South of his successful directing debut Fried Green Tomatoes and raises the stakes in the high flying game of movie making. The bucolic setting is captured in vivid images under the camera direction of Geoffrey Simpson, collaborating again on The War, Avnetís second directing turn. I never found the camera intruding or straining to create in artificial terms. The camera clearly subjugates itself to the directorís vision and the result is an astounding sense of clarity of time, place, detail and people.
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Father teaches son in The War ©Universal

    Though the vast majority of the film is dominated by the child actors, Kevin Costner proves again what an incredible asset he can be to a film. Costner plays Stephen Simmons, a veteran who has spent some hospital time recovering from the psychological wounds of the war. Costnerís scenes with Elijah Wood, playing his son Stu, provide the reality of a father/son bond that insures that The War will ultimately survive any misstep along the way to its conclusion. Costner fits into the life of Stephen Simmons with consummate ease and whether quietly holding his own in the most intimate scenes or standing up for his son Stu at the County Fair, this Everyman actor is standing on solid ground. The young Elijah Wood gives a performance molded from truth and innocence which he has not managed to find in his later roles as a mature teenager.
     Jon Avnet handles all the actors very well, but he does wonders with the youngsters. Lexi Randall is outstanding as Stuís sister Lidia, this time finding a more fertile acting ground playing with real people as opposed to the blue screen dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. Avnet moves the story along thoughtfully without destroying the sense of rural casualness that invests so much strength in this film.
     The central image of the film, the tree house, built with the help of Stu and Lexiís friends, is the device that precipitates the war between two factions of local children. The film at this point borders on the ridiculous as the kids use a stash of weapons to wage war over possession of the tree house. Though the finale is jarring in its lack of delicacy, The War still remains a fine film. This is an almost perfect family film, though there are aspects that call for caution with young children. Particular attention should be paid to the water tank scenes to make sure that no kid gets the wrong idea.
     The War has been made into an exquisite DVD. Colors are intense yet with broad range. Fleshtones are accurate. Detail is immaculately captured. Check out some of the difficult forest scenes. Every tree leaf in the background is distinguishable and stable. It's a veritable torture test for NTSC video which The War passes with flying colors. The War is a tribute to the wonderful photography of Geoffrey Simpsonís bringing to video life the grand vision. The Dolby Digital 5:1soundtrack is extremely directional. The war scenes are especially dynamic with explosive shells panning left to right and front to back with startling intensity. Dialogue is crisp and easily understandable. Thomas Newman's exciting score packs punch and is recorded with an enveloping openness.  This is one war not to miss.






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