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Friday, May 16, 2008

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Posted By on Fri, May 16, 2008 at 11:37 AM

MOVIEGOER REVIEW:  WAR EAGLE, ARKANSAS

It wasn't until a relatively unknown scribe named Billy Bob Thorton penned the film "Sling Blade" that people began to view Arkansas as a place for serious filmmaking.  Recently, with the release of Joey Lauren Adams' film "Come Early Morning" and Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories," Arkansas has seen its stature enhanced; both of these films were critical darlings.  Finally, filmmakers, producers, writers and musicians are collaborating on quality Arkansas projects, and people around the world are taking notice.

That wonderful trend continues with "War Eagle, Arkansas," the opening film of the Little Rock Film Festival, and a deeply emotional and somber tale about two friends, one with a speech impediment and the other cerebral palsy.  It's based on a true story of two Arkansas boys, Vincent and Tim, and the film's producer, Vincent Insalaco, captured their story.

Graham Gordy, who has another film, "The Love Guru," out in a few weeks (he co-wrote the script with Mike Myers), took Vincent and Tim's story and readied it for the screen.  His work is admirable, mighty fine in fact, and the words these characters speak embody the everyday challenges they faced and the hearwarming friendship they developed. 

Luke Grimes and Dan McCabe, two extraordinary young actors, play the film's primary characters, Enoch and Wheels.  The boys live in a small Arkansas town, and not unlike most boys, they spend their time playing video games, talking dirty about girls and loving baseball.  If the film finds its way into mainstream distribution, Mr. McCabe will be an Oscar contender.

Enoch lives with his grandfather, Pop, played by Brian Dennehy, and his mother, Belle, played by Mare Winningham.  These are small roles, but vital, and they are well executed.  James McDaniel, who has distinguished himself in television and roles in smaller films, brings important themes of race into context as a black preacher named Jack. 

Themes of race and religion, quite common in the American South, are very present, and everyone struggles with them.  But this is primarily a story about friendship in a small Arkansas town, what it means, and how difficult it is to maintain when life forces intervene. 

Accentuated by a subtle and beautiful score by Will Churchill, "War Eagle, Arkansas" tugs at the heart and re-invigorates the spirit.  Simply, it's as good as it gets.

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