[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Buy&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00EK3EF22][/pullquote] Based around a day in the forest playing ˜Capture the Flag’ I Declare War is an independent drama that follows a group of kids who are playing at being soldiers. Focusing on the lengths that some will go to in order to win and highlighting some of the darkness and cruelty that can be found in all humanity, it pitches itself as a cross between The Goonies and Platoon.
Divided into two teams, one lead by PK (Gage Munroe) and one by Quinn (Aidan Gouveia), I Declare War follows the two ˜armies’ as they engage in skirmishes and discuss tactics while attempting to steal the opposing teams flag and claim victory. PK is a veteran of the game and has never lost, while Quinn is a new expert tactician who might actually give the highly successful PK a run for his money. When Paul (Siam Yu) is captured by the borderline-obsessed Skinner (Michael Friend) the action takes a turn for the dramatic as the two teams desperately try to outthink and outmaneuver one another.
Like all great fiction surrounding children, notably The Lord of the Flies, the central children each fulfill a standard war film role. There’s PK, the grizzled veteran, Joker the loud-mouthed second-in-command and Wesley, the religious priest who seems uncomfortable with any conflict. While on the ˜bad guys’ side (for this is how they are pitched) who have a tactically pure general, a treacherous second-in-command and a couple of henchmen. It’s an intelligent and well put together collection of archetypes and it isn’t long before you forget that they’re children and see them as timeless characters.
It’s a touch predictable, but watching them try to outthink each other is a blast and the replacement of the fake weapons made from sticks in the forest with real military hardware is a genius touch. When one of them finds a log, we exclaims that it would make an excellent bazooka. In the next scene that is precisely what he is carrying. Like memories of when anyone played as kids, the action is, on-the-whole imaginary but is presented as real. Directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson cleverly establishes the rules of combat so that while it may be shocking to see children firing weapons with real ammunition, it is quickly dismissed as the kids lay on the floor counting to 10 before getting back to their feet.
Special care and attention has clearly been given to the dialogue and on the whole is holds up, with only a couple of obviously expositional speeches. The child actors are also, on the whole excellent and there’s a case to be made for future careers for the vast majority of them.
Unfortunately the pacing lets I Declare War down. A punchy opening and revelatory final act highlight a baggy middle portion, where too many elements are introduced and in some cases are completely forgotten. At a lithe 90 minute running time, it is a shame that it feels like it drags as much as it does and the illusion of war if broken too often and for no reason other than a general sense of boredom. You know that it is leading to the final showdown and there’s one too many fake-out endings leading to it.
With a novel idea, some good child performances and a good beginning and ending, I Declare War is a neatly arranged and well produced independent drama.