Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Chocolate War

Keith Gordon | 1988 | 104 min | USA

What an excellent little movie! I haven't enjoyed a dark comedy this much in a while. The story takes place in a financially troubled all-boys Catholic school which is quietly ruled by a clique of students called, the Vigils, who are led by a smug genius-in-his-own-mind named Archie Costello (Wally Ward). Brother Leon (John Glover) is in place to take over as head of the school, but first he must impress the higher-ups by raising a record amount of money with the annual school chocolate sale. Fearing failure, he turns to Archie, and asks for him to help the sale with his power over the student body. Jerry Renault (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) is a slight freshman, fresh off the death of his mother (sorry for that), who's given an assignment to see through by the Vigils. The assignment: to decline the school his help in selling the chocolates, no matter how much it will get him in Brother Leon's bad books. What follows is a great high school power struggle that I'm sure most will be able to relate to.

After building a fairly successful career in films such as Jaws 2, Dressed to Kill, John Carpenter's Christine, and Back to School, former-actor Keith Gordon decided to branch out and try his hand at directing. And what a steady hand he had. The Chocolate War is one of the most assured directorial debuts I've seen. It may slow down a bit in the middle, but the film has very little fat, great performances across the board, and nary a false note in any of the potentially embarrassing memory/dream sequences that involve Jerry's dead mother.

If you're a fan of Noah Baumbach, take out your list of "Movies 2 See" and write The Chocolate War up at the top of it. The film deals with issues that a lot of us dealt with when we were younger, but takes a darkly comic approach to most of them rather than the maudlin approach of most high school or college dramas. This isn't Dead Poets Society. Thankfully.

Good soundtrack too!

No comments: