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Film & TV Reviews

FILM REVIEW: The Chocolate War

TheChocolateWarFilm

This month’s book club pick is Robert Cormier’s 1974 novel The Chocolate War. A film adaptation written and directed by Keith Gordon was released in 1988.

The film opens with fifteen-year-old freshman Jerry Renault (Ilan Mitchell-Smith*Weird Science) playing football while two students watch from the bleachers.

The two students are Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison). Both are members of The Vigils, a secret underground student society.

*Interesting fact Mitchell-Smith is now a Professor of Medieval Literature at California State University Long Beach.

Jerry (Ilan Mitchell-Smith)
Jerry (Ilan Mitchell-Smith)
Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison)
Archie (Wallace Langham) and Obie (Doug Hutchison)

Each student when joining the Vigils is assigned a task. Albie gives Jerry’s the assignment to refuse to sell any chocolates for ten days during the school’s fundraiser.

Jerry decides after the ten days to still refuse to sell chocolates, which puts him at heads with the Vigils and sadistic vice principal Brother Leon (John Glover). His defiant act turns into an all-out war with bullying and coercion.

Brother Leon (John Glover) and Gregory Bailey (Wayne Young)
Brother Leon (John Glover) and Gregory Bailey (Wayne Young)

The first two acts of the film remain reasonably faithful to the book. The ending of the film is changed to give the film a more optimistic ‘Hollywood’ style ending where good prevails over evil. The ending of the book is far bleaker.

First time director Keith Gordon was a teen actor himself (he made his film debut at 17 in Jaws 2) so he has a good understanding of a young actor’s process. He was also only 27 when he directed The Chocolate War. Other than are few issues, such as editing choices and the use of some fantasy sequences that don’t always work, it is a competent effort for a first time director and he largely delivers good performances from his cast.

Categories
Book Club Pick

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Book Club Pick: January 2016

ChocolateWar

Book Details:

Title: The Chocolate War

Author: Robert Cormier

Series: Followed by a sequel Beyond the Chocolate War (released in 1985)

Country: United States

Publisher: Pantheon Books

First Published: 1974

Pages: 209

Publisher’s Description:

New boy Jerry Renault refuses to sell chocolates for Trinity School’s annual fundraiser. This small act of defiance starts a chain reaction, exposing the corruption running through the school and starting an all-out war with the Vigils, the school’s secret society. There is only one solution, but who will survive?

Review:

‘Do I dare disturb the universe?‘ – a line from T.S. Eliot that is on a poster on Jerry’s locker.

DisturbUniverse

Jerry Renault, is a freshmen at Trinity, a Catholic high school for boys. He is a quiet and reserved student, silently coping following the death of his mother.

One day Jerry is approached by Archie Costello, who is the Assigner for the Vigils, a secret underground student society. Each student when joining the Vigils is assigned a task (think hazing and peer pressure). Jerry’s assignment is to refuse to sell any chocolates for ten days during the school’s fundraiser.

Jerry decides after the ten days to still refuse to sell chocolates, which puts him at heads with the Vigils and sadistic vice principal Brother Leon. His defiant act turns into an all-out war with bullying and coercion.

The novel highlights the Vigil’s manipulation, cruelty and control over students. This very dark depiction of the abuse of authority could easily be a metaphor for any corrupt political society in the world.

Due to its content the book is frequently banned and appears third on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Banned / Challenged Books in 2000 – 2009.

The novel was adapted into a feature film in 1988, directed by Keith Gordon.

TheChocolateWarFilm

 

Source: I borrowed a copy of this book from my public library.