FILM RATING: 3 stars
One of the most important things to continually practice as a movie lover is to keep myself open to experiencing new movies regardless of their hype, marketing or lack thereof. There are a lot of great movies that weren’t a “success” in theaters because they didn’t get the marketing or financial backing of a major studio or distribution company. Maybe they had a bad trailer, a bad movie poster, or poor marketing. But then they find their audience through DVD, Bluray, TV, word-of-mouth, or now the internet. But at the end of the day, I look at ALL movies as being equal…at least until I’ve watched them. They’re an escape into an alternate reality for a couple hours. Regardless of how I discover a movie or how much money the movie made or didn’t make, I ask myself a simple question: Do I like the story and enjoy the experience of it, or not? If I like it, then it falls into the category of WIN…if I don’t like it, then it falls into the category of LOSS. Movies are really just as simple as any sports match. They win or lose and then live to play another day. Sometimes movies that “lose” initially, eventually end up winning another time.
I’m not exactly sure why I was attracted to the indie film War Eagle, Arkansas (2007), other than I saw the title on the TV Listings for Showtime and figured I would check it out since the title was unusual and the one-sentence synopsis of the film sounded like it had potential. Plus I wanted to see Luke Grimes, a young actor who had guest appearances on the excellent TV show Brothers & Sisters. He seemed like a passionate guy on that show and I wanted to see some more of his work. To my pleasant surprise, War Eagle, Arkansas was a good film (3 stars out of 5). Even though the movie poster and title are a bit “cheesy”, and the movie on the surface looks like an “After School Special” for the Lifetime Channel (no offense to the Lifetime channel…it has it’s niche), there is some cinematic depth to this film and its story that deserves appreciation.
To begin with, the photography by Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi is great. It has a delicate and subtle beauty to it that one has to pay attention to in order to get. And I like that. Not all movies have to be super saturated with constant awe-inspiring scenic shots flipping by at 50 mph…it depends on the story being told and what is appropriate for that story. Takayanagi uses the camera’s placement and focus in this film to slowly bring out the beauty in the characters and their very humble surroundings. But through his creative shot selection and camera movements, he brings emotion and drama to the film that the typical weepy-dramatic Lifetime movie is lacking. The images below don’t do the film justice because the trailer is low quality and doesn’t take the time to showcase the visuals I’m speaking of. It’s an additive effect as well…I noticed and appreciated the photography more and more as the movie progressed.
The acting in the film by the two main characters, Enoch as played by Luke Grimes and “Wheels” as played by Dan McCabe, is well done. Both of these young guys felt genuine and real, and the two actors deserve praise for playing these challenging characters with finesse and depth. They both have major challenges in life. Wheels has a crippling physical disability that keeps him in a wheelchair and Enoch stutters. Together, these two best friends help each other get through life. Wheels is extremely sharp, witty and intelligent. Enoch is loving, caring, and shy, but with a bubbling passion inside. Wheels helps Enoch express himself with other people, because when he gets nervous, he shuts down and stutters badly. Enoch helps Wheels by putting him in bed each night and helping him get around, which his single mom physically can’t do. Brian Dennehy plays Enoch’s grandfather, simply known as “Pop”, who lives with Enoch and his mother. It’s a great supporting role for Dennehy and it showcases his acting abilities. Pop wants Enoch to follow his talents for baseball into college so that he can get out of the small town of War Eagle and have a better life. But Enoch isn’t sure what he wants. While he says he hates living in War Eagle, he comes to appreciate his friends and family there and doesn’t want to lose that either. This felt genuinely like the quandary that all small town folk have.
War Eagle probably isn’t going to make it into my Top 300 films of all time, but it’s a well-crafted caring film that struck a chord with me. It’s a realistic story about small town life and the challenges the people from those small towns have. Especially when it comes to the typical and obvious story of getting out of that small town. But War Eagle doesn’t just follow the typical storyline. While War Eagle doesn’t carve out any new cinematic ground, it does WIN in the end with me. And that’s all that matters.