The War 1994 Film Essay

This article is about the 1994 drama. For the 2007 World War II documentary, see The War (documentary).

The War is a 1994drama film directed by Jon Avnet and starring Elijah Wood, Kevin Costner, and Mare Winningham. It is a coming of age tale set in Mississippi in the 1970s. The film gained Wood a young actor's award.


Stephen, a shell-shockedVietnam veteran, returns from a mental hospital, which he entered voluntarily because he was suffering from nightmares about the war and had in consequence lost three jobs in a row. After having been treated and finally coming home again, he gets a new job as custodial engineer at a grammar school, but loses it again within less than one week because of a law forbidding people who spent time in a mental hospital to work within the vicinity of children. However, the Simmons family desperately needs money, so Stephen continues looking for work, and finds a job picking potatoes. There he makes friends with a man called Moe Henry, with whose help he succeeds in obtaining a job working in a mine - his best one yet.

In the meantime, the twins Lidia and Stu try to get away from the dreary reality of their lives. They find a tree in a forest close to their house and decide to build a tree house there. At first they and their friends argue over who has to construct it and who is allowed to use it; the three boys - Stu, Chet and Marsh - want it all to themselves, while the girls - Lidia, Elvadine and Amber - want them to work on it and share it afterwards. After several deals, they agree to build the tree house together. The girls get everything they need from the garbage heap belonging to the Lipnickis, a neighboring family with a reputation for bullying, who have a grudge against the Simmons and their friends. Unfortunately Billy, the youngest of the Lipnicki kids, discovers Lidia, Elvadine and Amber on his father's territory, so the girls have to pay him to keep quiet, but later after he falls under a candy coma his brothers force him to betray Lidia's secret.

While the children are busy building their tree house, Stephen and Moe are caught in a collapse as they drain water out of a cavern. Moe is caught under falling rubble, but Stephen, who in Vietnam had to leave his best friend to die in order to be rescued himself, is determined to save him, even if it costs him his own life. He frees Moe, but is hit by falling rocks himself, and though the two men are both rescued, Stephen is badly hurt and comatose, being put on life-support in the hospital.

While Stu and Lidia fear for their father's life, the Lipnickis find the treehouse and take it over, stealing the lock and key, which belonged to Stephen. However, they agree to return them if Stu can win a bet - swimming a lap around the inside of a water-tower while it drains - which he does. The children can keep the place, but not before the Lipnickis throw the key onto the rotted, treacherous roof of the water-tower, telling Stu that if he wants it, he can get it back himself. Shortly afterwards, their father is taken off life-support, and dies. When the kids run away from home to the tree house, they discover that the Lipnickis have returned. In the fight that erupts between them, the tree house is destroyed. Meanwhile, Billy Lipnicki protests against all the fighting, asking why they can't share the fort, but is ignored. He takes it on himself to go to the water tower to retrieve the key, but the roof caves in just as Stu and the others find him, and he almost drowns in the water tower. Stu rescues and resuscitates him together with Lidia, and Billy tells them he saw an angel, one who "looked like [Stu,] only bigger," (implied to be Stephen) who told him he had to stay on Earth and take care of his family.

From that time on the Lipnickis stop fighting with the others and stay out of their way, except for Billy, who becomes a good friend to them. The twins and their friends start to rebuild the tree house, but give it up after a couple of days due to lack of interest. Also, they find out that their father bought them a new house before he died and are happy to have a proper home again at last.



The movie was produced by Island World, and distributed by Universal Pictures, United International Pictures, and Argentina Video Home. Eric Eisner executive produced.

Critical response[edit]

Wood's performance in this movie gained him a nomination for a 'Young Star Award',[1] and Roger Ebert said in his review of the film that:

Elijah Wood has emerged, I believe, as the most talented actor in his age group, in Hollywood history.[2]

Despite Wood earning praise for his role in The War, the film received mostly negative reviews from critics, currently holding a 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 16 reviews.


External links[edit]

This is my first ever movie review, so please bear with me :)

I first had the pleasure of viewing this gem of a movie in 1997 and I enjoyed it immensely. I now own it on DVD and consider it in my "top 5" movie list. The War is set in the summer of 1970 in Mississippi. Steven Simmons (Kevin Costner) has recently returned from Vietnam and is trying to fit back into life as he once knew it. However his time in Vietnam has left its scars (both physically and emotionally), and has placed strain on his relationship with wife Lois (Mare Winningham), and his children Lydia (Lexi Randall) and Stu (Elijah Wood), who are 12 year old twins. While Steven is trying to re-build his own life, Stu and Lydia are spending the summer building a tree house with the help of their friends, while trying to avoid the Lipnicki children, who take on the "local bullies" role.

I won't go into anymore detail concerning plot, as it may spoil parts of the movie for some. The length of The War, at just on 2 hours, is sufficient for the plot and all its happenings to unfold, but any longer may have proved to be a little drawn out.

The performances put in by all the main actors and actresses (as well as many of the minor parts) are quite good. Elijah Wood's portrayal of the angry but likeable Stu is very well done. With his angry outbursts, expressive face, and "naturalness" in front of the camera, Wood creates a very believable Stu. This is one of his best performances, except maybe for his portrayal of Mikey in The Ice Storm

Kevin Costner, in what must be one of his best (yet lesser known) roles, is very understated but brilliantly cast as Steve. The uncertainty that he expresses within own life, but also the wisdom that he imparts to his children in various parts throughout the movie, are very touching indeed. Many people are critical in their assessment of Costner's acting, but I beg to differ. This is because, a few months back, I rented (and subsequently bought) 3000 Miles to Graceland, in which Costner plays a mad, mean and sinister robber. His performance in this particular movie could not have been further from his role as Steven in The War, but again he plays the part with ease. After watching these two movies, his acting talent and the range of characters that he can effectively bring to life is obvious.

Mare Winningham is perfectly cast as Lois, the hard-working, determined and supportive wife and mother. She breezes through this role, one which is similar in nature to her part in Everything That Rises.

Lexi Randall, as Lydia, also does well, although is almost overshadowed by the performance of by her best friend Elvadine, played by the brilliant Latoya Chisholm. Elvadine's scene in the classroom (you will know what scene i mean when you see it) is one of the best parts of the movie.

This movie does has some violent scenes where children are seen punching and kicking each other, so it would probably be best seen by those 12 years and up. Director Jon Avnet creates a fantastic visual experience, very similar in feel to that of his Fried Green Tomatoes. I really love the tree in which the children built their treehouse - so old yet so stable and strong..... This is a movie that really lets you escape from reality, if only for two hours.

I have viewed this movie many times, and because of this have picked up a few little flaws. Continuity is a little bit of a problem in some scenes. For example, in one scene, Stu and his friends are soaking wet from driving what looks like a home-mate billy cart into a pond. Straight after this occurs the Lipnickis appear, and as they push Stu and co. away from the billy cart, we see that Stu and co. are practically dry. But this is being picky, I must admit. The accents are a bit off in some parts too - maybe the actors were trying a little too hard.

The sound of this movie i must comment on. If you run a surround sound system with Dolby Digital, the movie will give it a work-out in parts. Two scenes in particular:

1. where Stu goes to wake up his Dad. As Stu shoves his dad to rouse him, the thump of helicopter blades are heard in the background and become progressively louder and louder. The sounds stops abruptly when Steve, who is startled by Stu and presumably woken from a nightmare, grabs Stu and flings him onto the ground (as he might have done in Vietnam when defending himself against an enemy soldier). This is a surprisingly intense scene.

2. At the marble quarry - I can't give anymore information than this without spoiling things.

So, if you have a surround sound setup, your subwoofer will definitely get a workout in some parts of the movie. The dialogue is presented quite clearly, and the constant buzz of cicadas and crickets really give a sense of a typically hot and humid summer in the South.

All in all I would highly recommend this movie. I have read reviews where people have said that this movie is not very interesting and is maybe a bit too "preachy". But I watched this movie once with a classroom full of my 17 year old mates and they were glued to the screen for the duration of the movie. The War definitely has a strong message to give about war - those wars we battle inside ourselves and also the wars that are fought by millions. This is also a sad movie, but has a very uplifting conclusion. The War may take some finding in your local video store, but it is highly recommended. 8/10.

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