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Underrated Films presents: The Chocolate War

Bitter, Bitter Balcony, Movie Review, The Chocolate War 1988Keith GordonKeith GordonJohn Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith Robert Cormier Bitter,Bitterometer,meter The Chocolate War(1988)
 

The teenage years are a tumultuous period where defiance is met by the humiliation of peers. “The Chocolate War” was a controversial 1970’s youth novel by the late Robert Cormier, a study of the institutionalize pack mentality and the price those who defy it pay. In 1988, first time director Keith Gordon (the scrawny actor famous for his “Christine” lead) took Cormier’s book and made an understated, artistically ambitious yet faulty film version that gathered a lukewarm reception. While the film couldn’t quite reach out to a generation that grew in front of John Hughes’ spectacles, “The Chocolate War” found late fanfare driven by Eighties’ nostalgia. A small gem, Keith Gordon’s surrealistic view of adolescent pain, like the characters it follows, perhaps needed time to grow up.

The film takes place in Trinity Catholic High School, whose ecclesiastical annals are devoid of time. The hero, Jerry Renault (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), is a freshman whose small frame hides an undeterred resolve to play Quarterback for the school’s football team. A foreshadowing for the events to come, Jerry gets sacked by the practicing squad mercilessly, yet manages to hold his own. This act of will catches the eye of Archie (Wallace Langham of C.S.I fame), the second in command of The Vigils, Trinity’s bullying fraternity. Archie is a mastermind, an androgynous heel who commands more fear with his words than any of his colleagues’ brawn. Accompanied by his minion, the sneaky Obie (Doug Hutchison), Archie puts Jerry on his black list.

Archie ultimately finds a humiliating task for Jerry when Trinity’s principal, Brother Leon (a very evil John Glover) requests The Vigils’ assistance in an outrageous petition to have the student body sell 50 boxes of chocolates each. As Jerry is forced by The Vigils to reject selling the chocolates for ten days, he later refuses to participate in the sale altogether. In the attempt to break Jerry down, The Vigils begin a series of menacing acts towards him that Trinity will always remember as The Chocolate War.

Keith Gordon went into this film with the guileless passion of a novice filmmaker, bringing Jerry’s stand to life in a series of haunting dream sequences and elaborate dolly shots. Also, Gordon integrates his strong soundtrack in the film as a narrative tool well. For instance, during the climatic boxing scene between Jerry and Archie, Peter Gabriel’s Orwellian-inspired hum “We Do What We're Told (Milgram's 37)” captures the horrors of a mass agenda. Gordon showed a lot of confidence in his abilities, which would bloom later in “A Midnight Clear,” “Mother Night,” and “Waking the Dead” (like “The Chocolate War,” all based on novels).

But like many first timers, Gordon’s aesthetic priority modestly deprives the story to blossom. For starters, Gordon makes Jerry’s purpose too unclear, and we are never entirely sure why he makes such a bold decision in the first place (the recurring image of his dead mother doesn’t completely develop). Second, so much time is spent on Archie’s planning that Jerry feels like a supporting character in his own story. Thirdly, the film’s ending of having Jerry tricked into following Brother Leon’s whim, is very contrived. Gordon wanted Jerry to get his revenge on Archie while still incorporating Cormier’s point that one endures the worst when standing alone. However, Gordon can’t entirely sugarcoat the disturbing truths behind Cormier’s tragic punishment of individuality. Nonetheless, “The Chocolate War” has more good morsels than bad ones, and is a worthy feature for those who leaned towards “Heathers” rather than “Sixteen Candles.”

Trailer:


Pics:
The Chocolate War1988Keith GordonKeith GordonJohn Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith Robert Cormier   The Chocolate War1988Keith GordonKeith GordonJohn Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith Robert Cormier   The Chocolate War1988Keith GordonKeith GordonJohn Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith Robert Cormier   The Chocolate War1988Keith GordonKeith GordonJohn Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith Robert Cormier   The Chocolate War1988Keith GordonKeith GordonJohn Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith Robert Cormier  

Credits:
Directed by: Keith Gordon
Written by: Keith Gordon
Based on work(s) by: Robert Cormier
Cast: John Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith


Source of the Bitter: John Rojas

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