Bunker Hill Academy, an elite private military academy, is slated to close due to the Board of Directors deciding they could make more money selling the land to condo developers. This news crushes all the cadets, especially Cadet Major Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton – Ordinary People, Kinsey) and the commander, General Bache (George C. Scott – Patton, Malice). At an end of the year party at the academy an incident occurs in which a young man from town is killed with Bache's gun. He is carted off to jail and then the hospital after suffering a heart attack due to the stress. Moreland is left as the most senior cadet at the academy. Most of the cadets go home for the summer, but some, including Cadets Dwyer (Sean Penn – Mystic River, Dead Man Walking), Shawn (Tom Cruise – Mission Impossible, The Last Samurai) and Moreland, stay. Moreland remembers Bache's words about not giving up the academy without a fight and so he decides to lead the remaining cadets in an armed stand off. Things do not go as smoothly as they thought and an unfortunate incident occurs. The cadets are now thrust into a war-like scenario and are left to question their morals and desires. They are behaving in a manner they see as brave and loyal and yet they are still defying authority. Moreland is stuck between the opinions of his two best friends and a feeling of loyalty towards his former commander. Shawn wants to continue at all costs and Dwyer believes they should give up honourably before any other tragedy happens. The cadets end up learning the hard way that there is no glory in death. They are forced to choose between two situations in which neither is good in their eyes.
The film is mostly remembered as the first onscreen appearances of Tom Cruise and Sean Penn, who would go on to have huge careers. It is also memorable to me in that it demonstrated that Timothy Hutton could not carry a picture. He is blown off the screen each time he shares it with Penn or even Cruise. His slight shoulders cannot take the burden. The film is a dark one that is marketed to the young generation. It was one of the first 'young' person's films of my generation that proved that the genre could still deal with serious issues and do well at the box office. The message of the film is even more important today in that in death there is no glory only death. It shows how taking up arms, even if that is what you are trained to do, is not the answer. The important image of how young and unready our soldiers are when faced with combat situations is driven home time and time again. They are merely young men and sometimes make the erroneous decisions of the young.
Director Harold Becker (The Onion Field, Sea of Love) has gotten above average performances from his young and largely inexperienced cast, but at times he allows the film to drag and it is too long in parts. It is a good film, but not the epic war/military films we have seen previously and since.
-Sounding The Call To Arms: Mobilizing the Taps Generation
-The Bugler's Cry: The Origins of Playing Taps
-Trailers and TV spots