Universal // 1994 // 126 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // August 2nd, 2007
What's worth fighting for?
(Abso-lutely nuthin' say it again now)
When The War first came out, it was viewed as more of a curious acting choice for Kevin Costner than anything else. The man who achieved Oscar-winning success with Dances With Wolves had appeared in a clever mix of films that married critical and popular success. The War was the last one before the financial monster and natural resource depriver that was Waterworld (it did consume quite a large chunk of Hawaiian metal for its sets, hence the obscurish joke). So how does The War play out in high definition?
Written by Kathy McWorter and directed by Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes), the film begins when Stephen (Costner) returns home after a stint in a hospital, immediately following a tour of duty in Vietnam. He's been unable to maintain the house he previously had before leaving for the war, and now his wife Lois (Mare Winningham, St. Elmo's Fire) and their children Lidia (Lexi Randall) and Stuart (Elijah Wood, The Lord of The Rings) are living in poverty upon his return from the hospital. The kids seem to get into trouble constantly, and Stephen has returned a quieter, calmer man, who doesn't want his kids to fight, for he's seen some bad stuff in country. The film covers the events in their lives over a 1970 Mississippi summer.
With all the movies about war and its after affects within a family, it's a surprise that I've not seen too many of them, but I enjoyed what The War was trying to convey. People in the southern town where Costner and his family live constantly ridicule him and mock the squalor that they live in. But those same people fail to realize that in his time in Vietnam, Stephen saw things that others should never be exposed to. In war, it's safe to say that the worst in man is brought out, and the sensibility to kill was never taught growing up and is an unnatural act. And when Stephen left his time in the bush (which he discusses in a memorable scene with Wood), it makes for really emotional stuff, of which there are several similar moments.
The primary obstacle that keeps this film just "kind of good" as opposed to "great" is that the film's center is clearly focused in the wrong area. Lidia provides voiceover at several moments of the film, but when not doing that, she serves as a skeptical voice to Stu's faith on Dad's actions, and also has her own group of friends that she sings Motown songs with. The central focus of the film should have been on Stu's relationship with his Dad, whom he hadn't seen after he left for the war, and Stu's adjustment to his Dad's now almost pacific philosophy. It's that type of father-son dynamic that would have made for really good stuff here, but it loses its way.
As for the performances, Costner apparently is being Costner, where he shares a few glances that make women remember why he was so cute, and he also utters that occasional line that steps outside of the local dialect. Witness his role as Robin Hood for the magically disappearing and resurfacing accent. It's Wood's performance that is the better of the bunch, as dare I say he carries the film a little bit further than its limitations. He shows off humor, violence and most importantly emotion in all the right spots and helps to reiterate that Peter Jackson might have made the right choice after all.
This disc is notable as being a rare Universal treat, as they have decided to try out the lossless TrueHD track on this disc. The results are OK, with some clever environmental surround effect placement and some low end power in some of the more demanding sequences. In terms of soundmixes, I'd love to hear TrueHD for, say, a King Kong or Apollo 13, but progress is progress. The 1.85:1 VC-1 anamorphic transfer has the ol' ever-present layer of film grain and some more detail is brought to life in the picture, but the image doesn't happen to possess a lot of the depth that other titles have in the past. And as far as extras go, you're stuck wondering why there aren't any bonus supplements here, since this disc has none.
The transition to the final act just didn't make much sense to me, especially when you consider the way that Stephen opened up to Stu about what he saw in the war. And besides, the escalation of what occurs in that scene is a little bit on the Bart/Nelson tip from an early Simpsons episode. It really puts a damper on what the film was trying to say in acts one and two, and that final act telegraphed an ending that was sad to see put onto this film, save for a poignant coda at the end when Lidia says the following about her summer:
"War is like a big machine that no one really knows how to run and when it gets out of control it ends up destroying the things you thought you were fighting for, and a lot of other things you kinda forgot you had."
I'd give The War flying colors if it focused on one area and stuck with it, rather than dealing with a lot of separate issues that took away from what I thought was an effective relationship between father and son. The HD qualities are probably enough to warrant an upgrade assuming you have the disc, and that's the only reason to double dip.
War...good God y'all!
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 126 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13