The Chocolate War Keith Gordon

Robert Cormier’s teen-lit classic gets the feature film treatment in this sharp, no-nonsense adaptation. Ilan Mitchell-Smith (the other guy in the pair from Weird Science) stars as Jerry Renault, a freshman at a Catholic prep school ruled by the iron fist of one Brother Leon (John Glover). Leon’s gotten himself into hot water by buying more chocolates than needed for a school fundraiser; he’s got to unload them fast and is thus bullying the student body while invoking the powers of their secret society, the Vigils. Jerry incurs Leon’s wrath by choosing not to buy the chocolate and thus becomes a rallying point in an anti-Leon campaign that the Vigils, led by a malevolent Archie (Wally Ward), must somehow crush. Actor Keith Gordon turns in a surprisingly assured performance in his directorial debut, offering simple but pointed set-ups that emphasise the stifling nature of the classroom and the shady nature of Leon and the Vigils — the visuals don’t punch you in the face but work on you in subtle, unexpectedly effective ways. Furthermore, the cast is uniformly excellent, with Glover walking off with the movie as the supremely self-regarding Leon and Ward surprisingly sympathetic as the beleaguered leader of an increasingly suspicious society of oppressors. You keep waiting for the movie to bog down in preaching or expository talk but it never does; the script is a model of economy and restraint that says what’s needed in a crisp, streamlined fashion. If it’s no masterpiece, it’s still light years better than most films aimed at teenagers. Extras include an informative, effusive commentary by Gordon and an extended interview with the director that’s packed with background detail. (MGM / Sony)