the fresh films reviews

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The War (1994)

Jon Avnet
The War
124 minutter
Jon Avnet
Jordan Kerner
Kathy McWorter

Cast includes:

Stu Simmons Elijah Wood
Stephen Simmons Kevin Costner
Lois Simmons Mare Winningham
Lidia Simmons Lexi Randall
Elvadine LaToya Chisholm
Billy Christopher Fennell ˝
Arliss Donald Sellers ˝
Leo Leon Sills ˝
Lester Lucker Will West
Ebb Lucas Black ˝
Mr. Lipnicki Raynor Scheine
Miss Strapford Christine Baranski ˝



This warm and magnificently photographed film shows a slice of growing up in the American south in 1970. The Simmons family, as many families surrounding them, struggle with poverty and the after-effects of the Vietnam war, which the father fought in and came back from with post-traumatic stress syndrome. The children spend the beautiful summer building a huge tree-house and playing with various mechanical junk they find scattered around the neighbourhood, as you would in the 1970s. And as their father recovers from the psychological wounds of his war, the children raise their own with the rivalling, motherless Lipnicki siblings next door.

The film was based on a screenplay by newcomer Kathy McWorter which has a lot of insight and layers to it, even if it at times threatens to overreach and become too much message. The director, Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes), is fairly eager to convey the script's obvious duality, but he also creates solid roots for the basic narrative. He has a delightful balance between his nostalgia and understanding for the zeitgeist and the environments he's portraying. And although the war parable may not be exactly subtle, it's on the nose and quite effective. Avnet aims for thought-provoking and important, and attains at least engrossing and authentic. He recaptures a time and place filled with warm naiveté, with recognizable music, clothes and colours, and with those familiar southern mannerisms. The joy of life, hardships and conflicts of the kids are as well portrayed here as in any coming-of-age film, and for anyone who remembers growing up in or around said time period, the film is a remarkable feel-good treat. There are several accomplished performances in here too, both by local non-professionals such as the Lipnickis (of which Lucas Black later made a name for himself) and – to a lesser degree – by the Lidia crew. And there are also some fun turns from established character actors such as the wonderful stereotypes delivered by Christine Baranski and Raynor Scheine.

Still, it is Elijah Wood who elevates the drama from interesting to harrowingly effective through his skilled, multilayered lead. There is so much potency in Wood here that he feels almost like a juvenile version of Marlon Brando – from his emotional outbursts to his physical acting. His scenes with Costner are among the film's finest. It was a performance that marked the culmination of one of the best child acting careers in Hollywood history.

Re-reviewed: Copyright © 20.04.2008 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang
Original review:
Copyright © 17.04.1997 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang