Home Pge, Site Index, Search, Help

‘The Chocolate War’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 20, 1989

"The Chocolate War" lures you into the strangulated world of St. Trinity's high school, where the real syllabus consists of one-upmanship, back-stabbing, power plays . . . and selling boxes of chocolate.

Apart from a few lapses (some ineptly constructed fantasy sequences and a little too much life's-a-bitch-then-you-die portentousness), writer/director Keith Gordon's adaptation of the Robert Cormier novel has a peculiar, grim integrity. You respect it for never letting up, for keeping on cynical course. You'll be compelled more than uplifted, slapped into shape rather than lulled to entertainment. But within the confines of "Chocolate's" boy-eat-boy world, that's a plus -- multiplied by appropriately chilly performers John Glover, Wally Ward and Doug Hutchinson.

When freshman Jerry (Matthew Broderick clone Ilan Mitchell-Smith) is inducted into the Vigils, a secret cult of students, he discovers a juvenile underworld that quietly dominates St. Trinity's. Just as in the claustrophobic universes of Jean Vigo's "Ze'ro de Conduite," Peter Brook's "Lord of the Flies" and Hector Babenco's "Pixote," it's the kids that rule the asylum.

At St. Trinity's they're led by the dashingly malevolent Archie (ice-blond Ward), who, assisted by icky sidekick Obie (Hutchinson), concocts practical jokes, or "assignments," for lesser Vigils to carry out. These missions, such as the loosening of every screw in a classroom (so the place falls apart with just one nudge), are designed to undermine the masters' influence.

Meanwhile, Brother Leon (the stiletto-featured Glover), a schoolmaster who wields a mean cane, has a maniacal agenda for St. Trinity's annual chocolate sale. By coaxing the pupils to outdo last year's totals, he hopes to impress the school's governing body and possibly get the headmaster's job. To ensure success he forms an Iran-contra-type pact with Archie. Leon and the Vigils become temporarily united.

Or do they? When Archie orders Jerry to steadfastly refuse his chocolate-selling duties, the pact is severely tested and, at this two-faced school, so are everyone's positions. You'll see many falls from (dubious) grace, and when "Chocolate" concludes with a ritual, bloody boxing match between bitter rivals, you'll see just how far the corruption of adolescents can go and you might think twice about private education.

Copyright The Washington Post

Back to the top

Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help