Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The War Game (1965)

Terrifying speculative "documentary" that depicts what might logically happen to British society in the event of a nuclear strike derives much of its power from its sobriety. As propriety crumbles to dust in front of our eyes, the starched narration refuses to alter its tone (we might as well be watching a film about soybeans). This just emphasizes the stark horror of it all; as the film exhaustively wends its way through the decline, the affectlessness begins to take on the ring of the somber and the hopeless. It's a cataloguing of potential atrocity, affecting and evocative (a shock wave is described as "an enormous door slamming in the depths of Hell") and totally believeable, possibly because writer/director Peter Watkins based his speculations on the reactions of the populace at Hiroshima, Dresden and several other sites of WWII mass destruction. The devastation, of course, continues beyond the inital blast -- as the narrator intones at one point, "When morale falls, ideals fall," and this disintegration of values proves even more frightening than the spectre of immediate annihilation. The War Game runs only 45 minutes, but it packs punches that elude films three times that length; it can, indeed, be said to be one of the few true anti-war films, as there's no excitement in between the explosionsm only chaos and confusion. This is vital stuff.

Grade: A


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