Not really a Kevin Costner star vehicle, although it was promoted as one, THE WAR hinges on a ham-handed Vietnam metaphor, as a conflict between neighborhood kids turns ugly and an all-American boy played by 1994's leading child star, Elijah Wood, absorbs the inevitable life lessons.
In 1970, Vietnam vet Stephen (Costner) is released from a VA hospital; he's been under treatment for what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of which include terrifying dreams of violence. Returning to his small Southern town and loving wife (Mare Winningham), he tries to
make something of himself, meanwhile sharing his newfound nonviolent credo with his volatile son Stuart (Wood), and trying to forgive himself for what he considers an act of cowardice--allowing a friend to die in combat. (The episode is revealed in a series of hallucinatory flashbacks, which
become increasingly detailed until it's clear that the act in question was actually courageous.)
Stuart and his friends reluctantly agree to share their elaborate treehouse fort with his twin sister, Lidia (Lexi Randall), and her two black girlfriends (Latoya Chisolm and Charlette Julius), and the kids set about fixing it up. The fly in the ointment is the Lipnicki family, the contentious
white trash family who live in the town junkyard. Stuart and the gang land on the Lipnickis' bad side when the girls con the youngest of the clan out of some of the junkyard's treasures. Matters don't improve after Mr. Lipnicki (Raynor Scheine) tussles with Stephen at a local auction, where he's
gone to put a blind bid on a ramshackle house; despite his best efforts to avoid a confrontation, Stephen goes ballistic.
While working at an abandoned mine, Stephen is serously injured after he braves a cave-in to pull a fellow worker to safety. Meanwhile, Stuart finishes the treehouse just in time for the Lipnickis to lay claim to it. To avert a showdown, they propose a dare, and Stuart wins control of the
treehouse by swimming across a dangerous maelstrom inside a water plant. But when Stephen dies, the Lipnickis renege on the deal. Stuart resurrects some of his father's leftover equipment from Vietnam to construct a perimeter defense. The conflict escalates to the point where the youngest Lipnicki
almost loses his life, and Stuart sees the light and assimilates his father's commitment to nonviolence. In the coda, Stephen's blind bid on the derelict property is accepted, and he posthumously provides a home for his family.
Perhaps because America's appetite for specious Vietnam metaphors is finally satisfied, THE WAR did poorly at the box-office, although Long Islander Jon Avnet's sentimental recreation of the rural South is no less persuasive than it was in his first big-screen feature, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
(1991). Avnet tries for the flavor of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but ironically, THE WAR is probably closer in spirit to DELIVERANCE, SOUTHERN COMFORT, and even PUMPKINHEAD--each of which, as film scholar Carol Clover has argued, attempts to reframe the Vietnam trauma as a cultural war between
backwoods rednecks and relatively sophisticated city boys. As a result, the Lipnickis are caricatured as innately violent, cretinous hillbillies, and the central conflict becomes too stylized for plausibility or emotional impact. Costner's performance is modestly effective, and the film suffers
after his exit. Young Wood is an exceptionally talented actor; his career is likely to survive both THE WAR and the disastrous NORTH. (Violence, adult situations, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Not really a Kevin Costner star vehicle, although it was promoted as one, THE WAR hinges on a ham-handed Vietnam metaphor, as a conflict between neighborhood kids turns ugly and an all-American boy played by 1994's leading child star, Elijah Wood, absorbs… (more)