Early on, there are enough eulogistic speeches, military formations, and regimented, geometrized compositions to produce goose flesh on anyone who retains a soft spot for John Ford, and to produce hives on anyone who doesn't. Quite soon, the view of military life becomes a bit more ambivalent than John Ford's. Taps is really no less liberal in outlook than Lindsay Anderson's If, though it takes the long way round to its viewpoint by putting its mutinous youths in solid support of the Patton-esque headmaster of Bunker Hill Military Academy. The inflammatory situation, students seizing the arsenal and entrenching themselves against plans to close the school, is undoubtedly far-fetched (where, we might wonder, have all the instructors gone?), and it runs out of gas en route to a compromised ending that tries to satisfy dove and hawk alike. It never caricatures or villainizes any of its people, however, and Timothy Hutton and Tom Cruise, in particular, are quite frighteningly convincing about the zeal with which some kids will play at being soldier. There is much talk of honor, courage, leadership, duty, tradition, and such like. Most of it is well said. But because it mostly comes from the mouths of babes, the ultimate effect, and a salutary one, is to suggest that ideas are not detachable from the people who hold them. With George C. Scott, Ronny Cox; directed by Harold Becker. (1981) — Duncan Shepherd
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