Directed by: Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson
Premise: A group of young boys play a militarized version of capture the flag. But as the game goes on things get out of control.
What Works: I Declare War is a bold film. Like Son of Rambow this is partly a movie about the power of the imagination and the function of violent fantasy for young people. However, unlike that film, I Declare War goes in much darker territory and it is far less comforting. As established in the opening scene, the kids are using toy guns but the filmmakers depict the game as seen through the eyes of their characters and so most of the film has children running around the forest with real weapons and firing on each other. The imagery of children gunning each other down with automatic weapons is disconcerting but the filmmakers have more on their minds than just provoking the audience. I Declare War is a movie that works on multiple levels, but it is primarily a dramatization of life in a militarized culture and what that does to people and their relationships. In that respect I Declare War is comparable to Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and in some ways it surpasses those films because it is able to directly address the issue. As distressing as the movie can be, it is often admirable how far the filmmakers of I Declare War are willing to go. Movies about childhood don’t usually address the tough realities of growing up. More often, these movies are about concocting fantasies of idealized innocence that reassure adults that their children are somehow more enlightened than their parents. The filmmakers of I Declare War abandon any pretensions to innocence. These young people are sophisticated and corrupt and as their game plays out it gets increasingly complicated and presents the characters with ethical and moral problems. The young generals want to win and they knowingly send their friends on missions that will lead to their “deaths” while other characters betray each other and jockey for position. One of the most fascinating aspects of I Declare War is the way in which the fantasy gradually becomes reality. The kids take the framework of rules to heart and in the fog of war lose sight of bigger considerations, like the fact that this is supposed to be a fun game. By its end this movie goes beyond a tale of adolescent play to dramatize something much more troubling.
What Doesn’t: The filmmakers of I Declare War have a unique challenge because all of their characters are in the tween years, placing them between childhood and proper adolescence. In order for the movie to be credible the characters must look and behave within a narrow set of parameters but I Declare War suffers from some dissonance in the casting and the dialogue. Most of the actors are well cast but a few of them seem a little old for their roles, especially Aidan Gouveia as one of the team leaders. At the same time, some of the dialogue is too mature for the juvenile characters. The film also has a notably old school approach. As part of the rules of the game, cellphones and other devices are excluded. That smartly cuts off these young people from their daily lives but at the same time it seems a little incredible given the penetration of digital devices and social media in youth culture. Although I Declare War stars child actors, viewers should realize that this is not a family movie. The picture is rated R by the MPAA for violence and language, which is all the more unnerving because of the young cast. This is a movie that many parents, especially those of young children, may not enjoy. It gets quite brutal at times and the filmmakers refuse to sentimentalize childhood in the way movies often do. The cruelty of I Declare War is to the movie’s credit but audiences are likely to be divided by it.
Bottom Line: I Declare War is not a film that can be described as “politically correct” but it does come across as truthful and that is far more important. It is flawed but what the filmmakers have managed to accomplish in I Declare War is exceptional and at times extraordinary.
Episode: #456 (September, 15, 2013)