The Chocolate War

Best known for his work as an actor (he played the young Roy Scheider in All That Jazz and the lead in Home Movies), Keith Gordon made his directorial debut in and wrote the screenplay for this odd, cold stylistic exercise set at a Catholic school and based on a novel of the same title by Robert Cormier. The plot involves the school’s drive to sell twice as many boxes of chocolates as in the year previous, and the intervention of a sadistic hazing club known as the Vigils. Some reviewers have been bothered by the relative absence of backgrounds and motivations to the characters, but for Gordon’s arty purposes the stripped-down story and cast of characters are modeled to fit, and the insistent use of pop music on the sound track is equally effective. Thematically, the film recalls Calder Willingham’s End as a Man and the film version made of it (The Strange One, 1957); the presiding influence here seems to be Kubrick, and while the viewer may remain relatively uninvolved, the film’s address commands attention. With John Glover, Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Wally Ward, Doug Hutchinson, Jenny Wright, and Bud Cort, all of them quite serviceable. (JR)

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