The War

Kevin Costner sure does a lot of speechifying for an actor who is supposed to have a supporting role in this '70s-era drama. Costner plays Stephen Simmons, an emotionally fragile Vietnam veteran trying to readjust to life with his dirt-poor Mississippi family. Wife Lois (Mare Winningham) has struggled to provide for their 11-year-old twins, Stu (Elijah Wood) and Lidia (Lexi Randall). But unemployed Stephen, who preaches a gospel of hope to his kids, can't hold his demons at bay.

Director Jon Avnet aims for the same blend of humor and heartbreak that made his 1991 debut, Fried Green Tomatoes, a hit. Costner and the gifted Wood have several affecting scenes. But beware when Kathy McWorter's talky script starts pumping significance. Dad's war is paralleled to Stu and Lidia's battle with the local bullies for control of their beloved tree house. We're talking American imperialism in South-east Asia, a heavy metaphor that crushes the life out of the picture.

From The Archives Issue 484: October 9, 1986