(2012) Action (Drafthouse) Siam Yu, Gage Monroe, Michael Friend, Aidan Gouveia, Mackenzie Munro, Alex Cardillo, Dyson Fyke, Spencer Howes, Andy Reid, Kolton Stewart, Richard Nguyen, Eric Hanson, Alex Wall. Directed by Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson
War is ingrained in our personality. So many of the games we play are little more than wars without weapons. Capture the Flag, Football, Chess – all utilize strategy and tactics and require a killer instinct to be successful. War is literally bred into us as children.
Among one group of Canadian kids, the ultimate general is PK (Monroe). In a kind of elaborate game of Capture the Flag, he’s never failed to win. In the game PK has set up, there is a rigid set of rules – players “shot” by other players must stay down for a ten count. If they are hit by a “grenade” (a water balloon filled with red paint) they are “dead” and must go home immediately.
Quinn (Gouveia) leads the opposition and PK knows that Quinn is a formidable opponent. In Quinn’s corner is Jess (Munro), the only girl in the game and one who has a superior grasp of strategy and tactics. While most of the players (Quinn included to a certain extent) don’t take her seriously because she’s a girl, she overlooks it mainly because she has a huge crush on Quinn (kind of proving their point). But Quinn’s reign as generalissimo is to be short-lived.
When PK’s best friend Kwon (Yu) is taken prisoner (which isn’t forbidden by the rules but has never been done before apparently) by Skinner (Friend), Quinn sees this as a direct threat to his authority and orders that Kwon be executed. Instead, Skinner takes out Quinn and takes over the team. Jess as well as the other players Sikorski (Fyke) and Frost (Cardillo) somewhat grudgingly go along with Skinner’s play, which is to use Kwon as bait to lure PK out. Most of the others think PK is far too smart to fall for it.
It soon becomes clear that Skinner has an agenda of his own and he’s not above using physical torture on Kwon to get what he wants. PK’s team of Joker (Howes) and Wesley (Reid) is all for storming the enemy camp but PK has an ace in the hole – taciturn Caleb (Stewart) who lurks with his dog in the underbrush, observing and biding his time. But when things come to a head, it will become less clear who is the hero and who the villain is.
When I saw that there’s nary an adult in the cast, I thought this was going to be one of those insufferable kid flicks in which kids are wiser and more clever than adults and save the day. It’s nothing like that. These are kids who while they do take on some adult characteristics (I think it’s safe to say that few kids think as tactically as the kids in this film do – and to find them all in the same neighborhood really takes a lot of faith to accept) are still essentially kids. They’re very imaginative but they are also deeply vulnerable and insecure.
One of the conceits of the film that I loved is that when the kids are engaged in battle, they have realistic looking weapons in their hands. When they are not, their weapons are sticks and rocks and water balloons. When they deploy the balloons, they turn into grenades. It’s very clever although it did take me a few minutes to pick up on it.
With an all-kid cast you take your chances and the filmmakers have a few kids here who more than hold their own. There are others who simply aren’t as successful as they could be and whether it’s a lack of motivation on the part of the directors or if the kids just didn’t “feel” their roles is hard to say. I don’t like speaking negatively of juvenile performances because at least in the case of adult actors they have the tools to handle criticism whereas kids rarely do but it is also part of my responsibility to tell my readers what to expect if they see this film and frankly, that might be a turning point for some.
I hope not though – because this is really a terrific movie when I honestly didn’t expect that it was going to be. This is an allegory on the savagery of war on one level, and what it does to people who fight and lead in it. On another, it is about the imagination of kids and how the boundaries of reality and play can sometimes be blurred. This really is an intelligent film on a lot of levels and despite the all-kid cast, I’m not sure every kid is ready to see this – there’s a lot of stuff that the kids in this movie do that I’m sure most parents would have a heart attack if they knew their middle school kids were doing too. However, I think the more mature older kids might get something out of it – I know most adults will.
REASONS TO GO: An allegory on the savagery of war but also a parable on the imagination of kids.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the acting leaves something to be desired. A lot of standing around and dithering.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some violence and torture as well as a bit of bad language, all perpetrated by and on children.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Caleb’s dog is a Canadian Husky.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/22/13: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet; played Fantastic Fest last year and a handful of film festivals this year; picked up by Drafthouse Films but unsure what their plans are with it at the moment, whether it will get a limited theatrical release or end up directly on home video.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lord of the Flies
FINAL RATING: 8/10
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