Ronny Cox, Brendan Ward, Evan Handler, John P. Navin Jr., Billy Van Zandt, Giancarlo Esposito, Donald Kimmel, Tim Wahrer, Tim Riley, Jeff Rochlin, Rusty Jacobs, Wayne Tippit, Jess Osuna, Earl Hindman, James Handy, Steven Ryan Update Cast
See Tom Cruise before they were famous!
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The voices of choirboys ease us into the scene of a church service at Bunker Hill Military Academy in the United States. The Commandant of the academy (George C. Scott) addresses the assembled cadets who sit rigidly in their immaculate uniforms. The closing ritual, a reading from the Book of Rememberance, to honour the fallen.
We see "life in the lines" of a group of individuals of various ages, and are introduced to the main characters of the story. The Cadet Major Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton), his close friend and confidant Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn) and gung-ho red beret David Shawn (Tom Cruise). We also meet some of the younger cadets and see how the life of a cadet starts at the very bottom of the heap as a veritable slave, but that through hard work and discipline, the cadets rise to the top positions of authority in the upper classes.
Our three central characters are the seniors of their peers, but there is a tension borne through rivalry between Dwyer and Shawn. Moreland, the son of a war-hero Master Sergeant in the regular army, holds order and reigns supreme in his position as top cadet.
But the spit and polish of this institution is about to be replaced with the steel and glass of change. The Board of Trustees sees the real estate potential of the academy as more lucrative than that of producing the military leaders of tomorrow. Condominiums are planned to replace the 141 year-old buildings of Bunker Hill (actually the Valley Forge Academy) much to the dismay of Commandant and Cadets alike. The good news is that the cadets can finish their year's studies and those not graduating will have time to look for a new school.
However these thoughts are put aside as the cadets prepare for the upcoming ball, where girls in ball gowns are met at their vehicles by exceptionally polite and ceremonially dressed young men. However events are marred when local roughs start causing trouble at the gates of the academy.
When the senior classmen and the Commandant arrive to break things up, one of the roughs pulls the ceremonial sidearm from the Commandant's dress uniform holster and in the struggle it discharges, killing one of the locals. Police roll in and we see a dejected Commandant trying to understand how the weapon could be loaded.
Calls for the immediate closure of the academy flood the media, and the Board of Trustees moves to close down Bunker Hill. However, the Cadet Major and his troops have different ideas. They enter the magazine and arm themselves with m-16, m-60's and quietly secure the academy against a siege. Trucks are deployed to the local warehouses to fill orders for enough supplies to last the duration.
Things start to come apart when another conflict with locals starts to unfold when a truck stalls in town. When the roughs start to get too close for comfort, the shots ring out and the locals scatter long enough for the boys to escape - minus a truck.
By this stage, the word is out that the boys have taken over the grounds and they announce the terms of their occupation. Renegotiation over the future of the academy and the reinvestigation of the case against the Commandant.
The authorities seem unwilling to accept terms from these "children" and so the situation escalates into an almost full conflict against the local national guardsmen, armed with tanks and helicopters, hundreds of troops and giant floodlights to psychologically disrupt the discipline and composure of the cadets.
Inside the walls, discipline is starting to break under the pressure of begging mothers at the gates and little boys trying to fill the job normally filled by trained, hardened men. As one boy breaks ranks and head for the fence, he drops his weapon, it discharges and he is killed in the ensuing outbreak of fire.
A dark cloud falls over the scene as his lifeless body slumps against the gates. The pressure is on everyone now, with more and more boys failing to turn up at morning muster, Moreland, Dwyer and Shawn are torn between their desire to save the academy and the reality of their situation.
When things finally do come to a head, there is a tragic conclusion that leaves a hollow sadness and darkness over the academy that was bathed in sunshine and glory at the start of the film.
I remember being young and eager for a military career when this movie was released, and at the time felt it was an awesome movie. Now, as an ex-serviceman who is a part of the civilian life, I still think back with fond memories of this movie. It is one I can watch over and over again. The second half tends to lose the pace and overall feeling of "tightness", but maybe that also reflects the situation of the young men in this story.
The 80's style and feel of this movie takes me back to a time where things were a bit more wonderous and almost anything was possible. Just as these boys felt their personal crusade would see them save their beloved institution. Watch it, enjoy it, and don't worry about picking it apart, love it for what it is, and marvel at where the starts had their early breaks.
This film is a must see for anyone who loves the 80's and who wants to glimpse back at the stars in the making. It is a classic in the sense that it is a war movie, anti-war movie and teen movie all in one.
It is also a slight at those who would tear down our heritage to make a quick buck and create tacky, high density housing.
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