Tag Archives: timothy hutton

Taps (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cadets take over academy.

At the conclusion of another school year at Bunker Hill Military Academy, General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott) announces, to his shocked cadets during the commencement proceedings, that their school has been sold to real estate developers and will be closed in 1 year. Then that evening tragedy strikes forcing the board of trustees to close the school immediately. The students lead by Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) who had just been promoted to Cadet Major decide to take matters into their own hands by taking over the school with force and refusing to leave it unless guarantees are made to keep it open.

The film is based on the novel ‘Father Sky’ by Devery Freeman and the first half has excellent potential. The drama is intense and on-target and brings up a myriad of interesting conundrums dealing with the thin line between loyalty versus rebellion and how at different times both can be good and bad. It also deftly examines how bad things can come from the best of intentions.

Unfortunately all the action takes place in the first hour leaving the second half woefully undernourished with nothing happening. Everyone stands around expounding until all the tension that had been so nicely built-up at the beginning gets sapped away leaving boredom in its wake. The film also tries too hard to make its point becoming overwrought and preachy in the process. The dialogue between the characters loses its conversational quality and instead starts to sound like mini speeches.

The acting by the soon-to-be-stars is good and includes Sean Penn in his film debut as well as Tom Cruise in a breakout role that originally he rejected because he was only hired to be a background character, but his presence during rehearsals so impressed director Harold Becker that he decided to give him a bigger part and he  leaves a lasting impression particularly at the very end. Hutton, who was just coming off his Academy Award winning work from Ordinary People is effective too despite his thin frame and the scene he has where he discusses the situation with the cadets’ distressed parents are his best moment.

Scott on the other hand comes off as old and tired, granted that was the type of character he was playing, but it still isn’t a showy role for an otherwise famous actor and in fact he only appears in the film’s first act. The scene dealing with him trying to break up a ruckus between a group of students and cadets is poorly edited. One shot has his gun being taken out of its holster by another student only to magically reappear in Scott’s hands in a later shot, which comes off looking like a jump cut.

From a simply logical perspective it becomes abundantly evident right from the beginning that these kids have gotten in way over their heads with no endgame and nothing is worse than seating through a plodding plot that you know won’t end well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1981

Runtime: 2 Hours 6 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harold Becker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Dark Half (1993)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cure for writer’s block.

Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is a novelist who writes under the pen name of George Stark, but then decides to do away with it. Unfortunately this pen name slowly starts to take on a life and identity of its own. When George is ‘killed’ he becomes angry and starts to seek revenge.

Some of the things that I liked about the movie were the theme, which is interesting because it examines the idea that we are all two people. The one we want people to know and the other we repress. It also gives a thoughtful look at just how difficult writing a book can be. The climactic sequence is one of the most unique ‘showdowns’ you will ever see as both our hero and his dark half sit down across from each other to write a book of their own and the first one to finish lives while the other will die. There is also a nice creepy little nightmare segment.

However, there are a lot of things that don’t work in this movie and the majority of it looks like reprocessed stuff you’ve seen before. For one thing the musical score that gets overplayed. It’s like we are back in the silent film era and need it played in every segment just to keep the film going. The use of the sparrows as some symbolic reference seems awkward. They are not scary even when shown in flocks and having to see a shot of them flying around every other scene becomes annoying and redundant. The basic premise itself has potential, but gets stretched too far.

Hutton was not a good choice for this. He doesn’t display enough fear or emotion with the scenario. He approaches everything like a properly trained student of drama instead of as a method actor and playing the character’s dark half isn’t much better. He is supposed to be a creepy southern guy, but instead comes off as a bad, campy version of Elvis. The make-up effects never look realistic. It’s also irritating how these super smart, super clever bad guys always get so gosh darn dumb at all the right moments.

Amy Madigan makes a good non-glamorous wife, but accomplished actress Julie Harris is pretty much wasted although she does get the film’s best line.

Overall this is an offbeat idea that is given routine treatment. Having George Romero as the director doesn’t seem to add anything and he certainly has been slumming for quite a while.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 23, 1993

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated R

Director: George A. Romero

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD