The return of a Vietnam-veteran to his family in small-town America finds himself coping with the realities of what he has experienced, as well as trying to help his children who fight their own war with the neighbourhood kids.
Snubbed by the Oscars and even the BAFTA’s for some unknown reason, THE WAR is often cast off by many as a much too sentimental movie. A chick-flick, if you may. This is an anti-Vietnam film up there with the likes of PLATOON and BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY but, unlike the latter two, THE WAR deals more with the family than the pointlessness of the Vietnam conflict.
Having returned home now for some time, Stephen Simmons (Costner) is a man whose dreams are haunted by what he experienced in war. The Stephen his family knew has changed him forever, as war so often does. His wife Lois (Whinningham) and even his children Stu (Wood) and Lidia (Lexi Randall) see this change but they still love him no matter what. Stephen is not exactly the most talkative person in his platoon, but he gets on with his life in the best possible way by trying to earn a wage so he can support his family.
Whilst Stephen was fighting the Vietcong, Stu and Lidia found themselves at war with the local hillbilly children. Helped by their friends, their life is a constant struggle against enemies that lack both charm and intelligence. Whenever they meet, there’s bound to be a meeting of the fists. Sometimes Stu and Lidia wins. Other times it’s the slack jawed yokels. But not all of the hillbillies are bad eggs. The youngest of the clan, dumb he may be, has a heart of gold and sees no point in their continuous struggle and even asks his moronic siblings why they continue to fight. But, still, they carry on fighting. Not all is violent and is humorous at times. By the films conclusion, the tables are turned and the younger sibling plays a major part in ending their squabbling.
Although not a fan of Elijah Wood whatsoever, his puppy-dog expression can be quite tiresome and has ruined many of the films he has appeared in, Wood’s is quite surprising here. Only 13 years old when this movie was released, his ability to handle with the wide range of emotions that Stu has to cope with is commendable. Although he was barely out of diapers when this film was set, Wood’s performance is that believable of someone who had to deal with their father returning from Vietnam that he should have at least been considered for an Oscar.
Recovering from a recent career blip courtesy of such movies as THE POSTMAN, THE WAR seems to be a cosy reminder that Costner was once regarded as the golden boy of Hollywood. The year after THE WAR, WATERWORLD was released and Costner was cast into the abyss of Hollywood until the 2003 release of OPEN RANGE. Thank goodness that before this unnecessary exclusion that Costner could put in a sublime performance here. His role is quite a strange one, as his Californian surfer boy image intertwines with someone obviously suffering from severe mental trauma. The interaction with Stu is very natural and seems at times they are in fact father and son. A credit to Wood that may be, but Costner deserves the highest accolade of the movie. Bravo, Mr Costner.
The direction by Avnet must be applauded too. Despite it occasionally dealing with the harrowing experiences of a Vietnam Vet, it is shot throughout in soft focus that gives THE WAR a very cosy look to it. The scenes that include Stu and Lidia when they both play and fight seem very natural, and it is a credit to Avnet that he was able to achieve this type of performance. The old saying that you should never work with kids is certainly ignored wisely by Avnet. The brief number of scenes that do show Stephen fighting in Vietnam are shot to the highest quality that it seems as though they might have been taken from the cutting room floor of PLATOON.
Like many movies I have reviewed, THE WAR is one that hasn’t been seen by many of the folks that I know but is certainly one to be reckoned with. It’s superb performance by the cast, even by Wood, and direction by Avnet is of the highest calibre that should have been rewarded with much more accolade than it did receive. A highly recommended movie suitable for all the family.