Memorable mostly as the film that introduced filmgoers to Tom Cruise and Sean Penn, both of whom nearly steal the film from its nominal star, Timothy Hutton. Hutton, fresh from his Oscar for Ordinary People, plays the top ... more »cadet at a private military school run by George C. Scott. When the announcement is made that the school will be closed, the inmates take over the asylum with military precision. Hutton is caught among his sense of duty to mentor Scott, the rabid militarism of cadet Cruise, and the rational arguments of Penn, as Hutton's best friend. Then a cadet kills one of the cops responding to the crisis, and suddenly this game of playing soldiers takes on a warlike atmosphere. But director Harold Becker can't hold it together; Hutton isn't up to carrying the film, and the tension rapidly drains from the Darryl Ponicsan script. --Marshall Fine« less
"An overlooked, gripping drama that is notable for its young rising stars (Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Tom Cruise) and also its prescience, as noted by another commentator here, although I think that none of the Amazon reviewers to date has hit the nail on the head with "Taps" and its overarching theme.
The movie begins fairly conventionally, with the teenage military cadets and their venerable institution shown to the viewer to be upright, virtuous, and full of sound moral values. The youths may be a bit immature at times, and callow, but their earnestness and sincerity are shown as admirable and their devotion to their gruff, benevolent commandant (George C. Scott, perfectly cast) is unquestioned. You can literally hear the Sousa marches playing in the background. But just when you think you're in for a predictable, one-sided, nattily uniformed prep school movie preaching the military virtues, the plot takes a darker twist and we learn that appearances can be very deceiving. Faced with the closing of the school, the boys turn renegade, immediately betraying their duty of obedience in the emotions of the moment. While determined, brave, and motivated by principle, they are at the same time defying legal authority and behaving unwisely. Recognition of this causes the relationships and trust among the cadets to splinter tragically. Through the words of Hutton's career soldier father -- a wonderful supporting performance, with the hard, practical professional tearing down the cadets' naivete -- we are presented a picture of Scott's commandant that does not fit the boys' hero-worshipful image. And then the national guardsman who arrives to end the armed takeover of the school acts as Hutton's conscience, pointing out to him how far from the path of honor he has truly strayed.
Hutton's friends -- the pragmatic Penn, who wants to end the conflict peacefully, and the belligerent Cruise, who lusts for a bloody showdown -- tug him in two directions and he manages to antagonize both of them, furthering his sense of isolation and failure. Finally, the accidental but predictable death of an extremely young cadet -- no more than a boy -- is lain at Hutton's feet, and is more than he can bear. There is no glory or purpose in this death -- "You just think about what a great little kid he was, and how much you're gonna miss him," Hutton is forced to acknowledge, in the movie's big statement: that high-flown rhetoric about dying for honor and country isn't enough. "There must have been something more that we weren't taught," he tearfully reflects. Subtly,"Taps" has moved away from preaching the sanitary hagiography of "Dulce et decorum est / pro Patria mori" to address a greater truth -- that without wisdom, military virtues and sacrifices are just so much posturing and lead only to waste and misery. It was a brave statement to make back when this film was made and an even more important concern in 2005. The final shots -- a grieving Penn and the surviving cadets slowly fading into the mist, then an abrupt cut to a reprise of the triumphant military review sequence from earlier in the movie (is this supposed to be a vision of Hutton's entrance into Valhalla?) -- starkly hammer this point home.
A fine, thoughtful movie that is sympathetic to all its characters but also does not shy away from condemning their blindness. As an ROTC alumni myself (at one stage of my life I would have loved to attend a school like this, and part of me still would), I salute it."
Derek Flint | BROOMALL, PA USA | 06/28/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"TAPS was filmed at the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, where I was a cadet and graduate back in the early 70's. As alumni, we were notified of the filming that would be taking place and so I got to see some of the action going on. Naturally, I looked forward to the movie coming out and I was rewarded with a fine, suspenseful action drama. Certain scenes, like the parade formations, the formals, and the in-barracks fooling around brought me back to my cadet years. Even the run-ins with the "townies" rang true, although it never came to the brandishing of weapons. This is a fine thriller and an opportunity to see a cast of both veteran actors and future-stars perform."
An Amazingly Prescient Movie
Joe Banks | New York, NY | 03/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Saw this movie on cable a few years after it came out. I didn't think too much of it back then--but what a difference 20 years makes! Taps is, without a doubt, one of the best teen angst movies ever made. The unique twist here is that teens are (literally) fighting for increasingly anachronistic ideals: duty, honor, and country. Partly due to their methods & partly due to their militaristic demeanor, the society outside the school gates (good symbolism here) spurns their cause. In the time since 1981, the trend has been to tolerate, defend, and even reward, abberrant behavior. As a result, the film gets high marks for correctly predicting that these kids are on the wrong side of history. The casting was also extraordinary with outstanding performance all around. Cruise's performance was especially strong--perhaps the best he's ever done. I also find it uncanny that this film was able to cast two of today's top stars (Penn & Cruise) as leads. These factors have actually helped Taps improve with age--an extremely rare achievement."
The Bold and Brilliant, or Youth In Revolt
Flap Jackson | State Road, NC | 02/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Imagine, this is the movie that discovered Sean Penn and Tom Cruise, being this both of their debut roles. And the acting in this movie shows it, as great performances are given all the way around, especially by Timothy Hutton. What might be even more amazing is that I've never heard of this movie before two weeks ago.
In fact, I imagine that today's audiences couldn't sit through the first thirty minutes, as it's mostly filled with dialogue, and seemingly boring military school proceedings. But this is all very important, as it shows you the full load of dynamite just waiting to go off. Then as the movie progresses, it quickly delves into a 'Lord of the Flies' situation where there's youth in revolt. As the drama and tension rises, it soon becomes very clear that despite what you hope for, all will not end well. And when the end finally does come, it's hard to watch, even though it almost seems necessary.
The movie is certainly though-provoking, taking on themes of independence, military school, indoctrination, brain washing, honor, duty, dignity, courage, and fighting for what you believe in. They're thoughts that stay with you for awhile, and they offer no real answer, but it will challenge your beliefs.
Overall, an underrated and brilliant character masterpiece, with superb acting from some now famous stars, and a story that causes you to think. Granted, it makes me want to stay far away from military schools, and it's hard to watch at times, but "Taps" is a must-see movie."
A Tragic Proof That Hutton Is As Good As Actors Come
Abigail Kessler | Newbury Park, CA USA | 02/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Given the other reviews, plot summary in this one would be superfluous, yet I feel compelled to say "Taps" is a deeply moving tragedy. The characters are very real, the situation is very believable. The film has its share of comic relief, but the story is so sad and the acting so very good (even Cruise, whom I generally loathe, was perfectly cast) that if you are given to tears you may prefer to watch it alone, but whether you are or whether you're not, you definitely should watch it."