- Vancouver, British Columbia - It’s winter of 1943 in California. There’s hatred brewing for the Japanese all through out America, so much so that the Nazis are little more than an after thought. The prejudice against the Japanese permeates through the communities into the schools, and patriotism has become more than an identity, but something worthy of martyrdom.
For two high school seniors, Henry (Sean Penn) and Nicky (Nicolas Cage), the opportunity to enlist in the Marine Corps can’t come soon enough. For Nicky, it’s a chance to flex his machismo, but for Henry it’s simply to escape the monotony and flirt with danger. That changes when Henry falls deeply in love with Caddie (Elizabeth McGovern), a girl who is aloof at first, but soon warms up to Henry’s vulnerability. As Henry finds that there’s something to come home to, Nicky has found himself in a predicament: he’s knocked up his girlfriend, and needs money for an abortion. The ordeal threatens to drive a wedge between all three of them.
Sean Penn Month: This is one I simply selected at random, so I had no idea what to expect and no preconceived notions as to how Penn would be. This is one of his earlier pics, and man, going through his filmography he was a busy guy in the early 1980s. This is only a couple films after Fast Times At Ridgemont High, and the change is remarkable. Now, he’s still playing a 17 year old, but instead of stoner loser guy he’s playing a more average kid in the 1940s. And he’s fantastic. While Nick Cage doesn’t really pass for a teen, Penn does in both physical appearance and mannerisms. He’s insecure and any bravado he demonstrates is very obviously put on. In some scenes, he seems to be on the verge of running home and crying in a corner, but he toes that line instead and presses on. Unfortunately, the film and his character would have benefitted far more with more interactions with his parents.
I miss the days when Nick Cage could act. I’m positive he still has it in him, as The Family Man (he was great, movie was a let down) and Lord of War (all around great) proved, but this was yet another example of great Cage movies gone by. As I just mentioned, I didn’t buy him as a teen, but the recklessness and the desperation were very well-played out and I couldn’t help but like him.
Elizabeth McGovern was perfectly cast. There was no need for a drop dead gorgeous girl in this role, but rather one you could fall in love with. A girl who has a smile that lights up her face, but a very sharp mind who is expressive and interesting. McGovern fulfills the role splendidly, and I was rooting for her and Henry to hook up; she seemed so out of his league.
I’m glad we don’t cut to any of the wartime action, as the movie isn’t about the war but about the life the troops want to come back to. That’s a nice thing to see once in a while. In far too many war films, we hear about the lives back home, and occasionally we’ll see them, but this time that’s all we see. It lends some serious perspective.
So did I like the movie? Hmm. Hard to say.
There were some pacing issues, and serious ones at that. I could actually take a 45 minute break from watching the movie and I was fine with it. I wasn’t seriously and emotionally invested in the movie. It was written okay, but not amazingly. Some scenes dragged on a bit, and that can really take away from the performances. I have no doubt that some patrons in the theatre watching this had no problem walking out to grab some popcorn and take a leak. They then come back in and lean over to their girlfriend, whispering “What did I miss?”
She’d say “Oh, they went to the library and talked a bit.”
He’d shrug and say, “Okay.”
The soundtrack is my biggest complaint. It was amazingly uneven. Sometimes we’d get some period music (great!), and other times generic stock music (blah), and then other times some moving piano piece (nice!), and other times prolonged silence (zzzzz). Now, I’m all for silence when it has some gravitas in the film, but there was so much of it I think the director didn’t even notice it wasn’t there.
I’m glad I saw it, but I found there is little rewatch value. Characterizations were fantastic, but I think more time in the editing room would have seriously benefitted this film.
Rating: 2.5/5 Sour Grapes