Making the Grades
Sometimes I see a movie that I really want to like, but can't figure why I don't. Welcome to The War, a film that tries as hard as it can to say something meaningful about life, war, poverty, racism, children, and probably a few more things I missed. That's the problem. It's packed with great moments, but never really brings them all together.
This movie tries to show a parallel between the emotions and actions of children, and those of adults who are involved in a much larger battle. Stephen (Kevin Costner), a Vietnam vet, is convinced that fighting is the last thing a person should do to solve a conflict, while his son Stu (Elijah Wood) has a difficult time living within that restriction. The two of them continue to independently build upon their dreams, but as Stu sees his father's lack of success, he becomes more convinced that violence is at times a necessary requirement to attaining goals. The movie seems to be saying that violence doesn't solve anything. It's just difficult to find the message.
That doesn't mean that you should pass this movie over. The language is rough, and there is a lot of bullying and fighting. But there are many precious moments, and some great performances. For me, the star of this movie is the unknown LaToya Chisholm who plays Elvadine, a friend of Stu's sister. She has no previous acting experience, except for a part in a school play, yet provides one of the best scenes in the film -- a long dialogue aimed at her racist teacher.
For parents, this film offers many opportunities to explore questions like, "Can they solve their problem in another way, without fighting?" Or, "Why do you think their Dad is unable to find a job?" and "If you had a company would you hire him?" Asking children questions about the movies they are watching is a good way to turn an average film into a worthwhile experience.