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When The War first came out, it was viewed as more of a curious acting choice for Kevin Costner than anything else. The man who achieved Oscar winning success with Dances With Wolves had appeared in a clever mix of films that married critical with popular success. The War was the last one before the financial monster and natural resource depriver that was Waterworld (it did consume quite a large chunk of Hawaiian metal for its sets, hence the obscurish joke). So how does The War play out in high definition?
Written by Kathy McWorter and directed by Jon Avnet Fried Green Tomatoes, Stephen (Costner) returns home after a stint in a hospital, immediately following a tour of duty in Vietnam. He's been unable to maintain the house he previously had before leaving for the war, and now his wife Lois (Mare Winningham, St. Elmo's Fire) and their children Lidia (Lexi Randall) and Stuart (Elijah Wood, Lord of the Rings)are living in poverty upon his return from the hospital. The kids seem to get into trouble constantly, and Stephen has returned a quieter, calmer man, who doesn't want his kids to fight, for he's seen some bad stuff in country. The film covers the events in their lives over a 1970 Mississippi summer.
With all the movies about war and its after affects within a family, it's a surprise that I've not seen too many of them, but I enjoyed what The War was trying to convey. People in the southern town where Costner and his family live constantly ridicule him and mock the squalor that they live in, but those same people fail to realize that in his time in Vietnam, Stephen saw things that others should never be exposed to. In war, it's safe to say that the worst in man is brought out, the sensibility to kill was never taught growing up and is an unnatural act. And when Stephen left his time in the bush (which he discusses in a memorable scene with Wood), it makes for really emotional stuff, of which there are several similar moments.
The primary obstacle that keeps this film just "kind of good" as opposed to "great" is that the film's center is clearly focused in the wrong area. Lidia provides voiceover as several moments of the film, but when not doing that, she serves as a skeptical voice to Stu's faith on Dad's actions, and also has her own group of friends that she sings Motown songs with. The central focus of the film should have been on Stu's relationship with his Dad, whom he hadn't seen after he left for the war, and Stu's adjustment to his Dad's now almost pacific philosophy. It's that type of father-son dynamic that would have made for really good stuff here, but it loses its way.
As for the performances, Costner apparently is being Costner, where he shares a few glances that make women remember why he was so cute, and he also utters that occasional line that steps outside of the local dialect. Witness his role as Robin Hood for the magically disappearing and resurfacing accent. It's Wood's performance that is the better of the bunch, as dare I say he carries the film a little bit further than its limitations. He shows off humor, violence and most importantly emotion in all the right spots and helps to reiterate that Peter Jackson made the right choice after all.The Blu-ray:
I imagine that Kino hasn't done anything different than what existed previously, and that includes the HD-DVD. Film grain is present through the film and colors look fine, but there are moments of banding and smearing in the earlier moments and some crushing in the darker ones, so I imagine they took what was there and went with it.The Sound:
Kino's DTS-HD MA track isn't bad, I forgot that the film was a little more dynamic than I saw many moons ago. The flashback combat sequences have decent surround effects and subwoofer engagement for the gunfire and explosions. Music is clear and the sound stage is solid, with dialogue sounding clear and well-balanced in the center channel.The Extras:
Kino has actually put extras on this title, good on them for doing it! The big things here are two commentary tracks; the first is with Avnet, which lacks a little in terms of participation as it's a solo track. He does get into some shot recollection and spotting members of the ensemble and occasional tidbits on them and the location. There are long periods of watching, and his contribution is appreciated but not mind-blowing. The second track, with Emma Westwood and Paul Anthony Nelson is far more chipper and far more Australian! The pair discuss influences from the film and the songs therein, and gets into discussion of the film's place within the Vietnam genre, albeit in a different substage. There are also moments of pop culture shoutouts as well, and it's the better track of the two to listen to. A trailer for the film (1:58) and other Kino releases round it out.Final Thoughts:
I'd give The War flying colors if it focused on one area and stuck with it, rather than dealing with a lot of separate issues that took away from what I thought was an effective relationship between father and son. Kino has put some effort into this version of the film, even if the transfer is underwhelming. If you're a big fan of this then go for it, but respect the hustle by Kino.