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October 28, 2012

Taps

by Franz Patrick


Taps (1981)
★★ / ★★★★

Cadet Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) had been recently promoted to major by General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott) who was in charge of Bunker Hill Military Academy. Moreland looked up to the general and wished to prove he was worthy of the promotion during the upcoming school year. But when General Bache announced that the school was in its final year because the land had been sold, Moreland and the other cadets seized the campus and wouldn’t stand down until their three demands were met. Based on the novel “Father Sky” by Devery Freeman and directed by Harold Becker, “Taps” aimed to explore rebellion in a military milieu but its arguments were too black and white for it to be more than superficially interesting. I paid special attention to Moreland because he defined honor as adopting a stance and seeing it through no matter what the cost. He was a good guy with friends like Cadet Captains Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn) and David Shawn (Tom Cruise), but his actions weren’t always practical. He believed he was doing the right thing by defending their school, which was essentially their home, but he wasn’t always sensitive to the needs of his fellowmen. He knew the concept of sacrifice but he didn’t fully understand how to implement such a concept wisely. He straddled the tricky stage between being a young civilian and a soldier. However, there were a plethora of missed opportunities for the main character’s beliefs to be challenged and ultimately make us think. There were a few awkward scenes when Moreland and Dwyer, roommates, would walk in on each other, give one another fierce looks but never speak. Perhaps their conversations didn’t make it past the cutting room floor. If so, it made me wonder why such head-scratching scenes made it to the final product. A meaningful conversation between two friends was exactly what the film required especially with the events that transpired in the film’s final five minutes. Even mundane conversations would have given their characters dimension. Both teenagers were smart and they respected each other. Having commonalities and eventually highlighting their differences would have provided extra tension aside from the fact that the real military was right outside the gates of the academy. Cruise’ bellicose character was not used efficiently. We were supposed to take him seriously but he was always present whenever the material needed comic relief. There was no evolution in his character so his actions toward the end felt too forced. “Taps” rested on conflict that we could see: the tanks and more experienced soldiers at the gate, the helicopters that hovered above, and the worried parents talking over the loudspeaker. The students’ rebellion was a personal matter, one even acknowledged the strike as their own war, but their inner turmoils weren’t fully explored. Like the military men on the other side of the gate, as audiences, we were kept mostly on the other side.

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