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TAPS
25th Anniversary Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: George C. Scott, Timothy Hutton, Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Ronny Cox
Director: Harold Becker
Audio: Dolby Digital 4.0, French Dolby Mono, Spanish Dolby Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 126 Minutes
Release Date: September 12, 2006

“We have a home here. We think it's something worth defending.”

Film ***1/2

Taps is a film that will always be remembered for its superb casting, most especially that of several unknown young actors who would go on to have stellar careers. The film features the acting debut of Sean Penn, as well as the second pivotal film role for Tom Cruise, and provides Timothy Hutton with a terrific lead performance following his Oscar win for Ordinary People in 1980. But while it is remembered mostly for the young stars involved, Taps itself is a strong and harrowing piece of work.

Adapted from the novel “Father Sky”, the film tells the tale of the young cadets of Bunker Hill Military Academy. The head of the facility is General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott) who has seen many horrible battles in his time and sees Bunker Hill as the proper road to retirement. The young men of the school respect him, particularly Cadet Major Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton). Ever since his enrollment at the Academy, Moreland has seen Bache as a father figure.

The turning point in the story is when Bache addresses the school, informing them that it is to be shut down permanently. The facility has been sold by the Board of Trustees to real estate developers who plan to renovate the property with condominiums. The cadets are told that they have one more year to attend, after which they will have to transfer elsewhere.

The cadets are, of course, outraged by the sudden news. How could such a legacy of honor and tradition be destroyed by the simple stroke of a pen? Bache vows to not let this matter go down without a fight. That all changes when a tragic incident leads to the General having a heart attack and being put in the hospital.

With Bache in the hospital, it’s then decided by the superiors that Bunker Hill will be closed down immediately. Moreland, who was salted to lead the cadet corps the following year, makes a crucial decision and, along with the rest of the cadets, takes control of the Academy. Thanks to a school warehouse, they have enough weapons and ammunition to start World War III.

From Moreland’s view, he’s simply doing what he feels General Bache would’ve have wanted. They’ve locked the front gates, forcing the cops to simply be kept at bay. Eventually, the cops are replaced by the National Guard, led by the stern Colonel Kirby (Ronny Cox) who will use force if necessary but is hesitant about the very idea of storming the school grounds.

Moreland’s demands are quite simple. He wants to meet with the Board of Trustees to plead their case in an attempt to get them to rethink the matter. But, like a ticking time bomb, the situation grows more hazardous with each passing minute. To make matters worse, Moreland is caught between the viewpoints of his two closest friends at the Academy; his roommate Alex (Penn), who is more reasonable and his hot headed friend, Shawn (Cruise), who sees the opposing force as a vital threat to their cause.

Without giving much away, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the film doesn’t end on a much happy note. And in the closing moments, the true power of the film shines as does the strength of the actors, who were at that point delivering a taste of the screen presence they would continue to display. In the lead, Timothy Hutton carries the film especially well, and though his character makes a few wrong choices, we still have a rooting interest in him. Sean Penn, in a performance that came before his breakthrough role of Jeff Spicoli, is most astonishing in his first big screen role. And though I’ve come to respect him as a true movie star, I had no idea of how fierce and energetic the performance from a then 18-year-old Tom Cruise would be. Though everyone knew him when Risky Business came out, it’s this role that should illustrate the screen presence he’s capable of. And of course there’s the great George C. Scott who, although occupying little screen time, commands (no pun intended) every scene he’s in.

Well directed by Harold Becker (The Onion Field, Sea of Love), Taps is triumphant cinematic parallel of “Lord of the Flies”. The story is gripping throughout and the magnificent performances help make it an even more enthralling film experience. I took way too long to discover this film, and you shouldn’t hesitate in discovering it for yourself.

Video ***1/2

Fox’s anamorphic presentation is most exceptional, given that this film has aged 25 years. The image quality is crisp and tremendously clear throughout. Detail is present in a good many scenes, and color is nicely displayed as well. Some slight grain in a couple of scenes, but nothing incredibly distracting at all.

Audio ***

Nicely handled for an early 80s film. The 4.0 Dolby mix accommodates this piece quite well. It’s a dialogue-oriented film, but many of the set pieces make good use of several set pieces. Moments of military marching beats play off especially well. Dialogue is terrifically clear, to say the least.

Features ***

For this 25th Anniversary re-issue, Fox includes some very nice feature upgrades. There’s a commentary track with director Harold Becker, two well handled featurettes; “Sounding the Call to Arms: Mobilizing the Taps Generation” and “The Bugler’s Cry: The Origins of Playing Taps. Also featured are various Trailers and TV Spots.

Summary:

Taps is a most riveting tale of escalating tragedy set against a military setting. Shakespeare would be very proud, I think. The marvelous cast and tight directing blend to make this the triumph that it is.

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