Netflix UK film review: I Declare War
Ivan Radford | On 05, Jul 2014Reading time: 2 mins
Directors: Jason Lapeyre, Robert Wilson
Cast: Siam Yu, Gage Munroe, Aidan Gouveia, Michael Friend
Watch I Declare War online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Eircom / Virgin Movies / EE / TalkTalk
There’s a moment at the end of Rushmore, when Jason Schwartzman re-enacts Platoon in an end-of-year school play. What starts out as cardboard-thin trees and cheesy dialogue soon erupts into smoke, fire, helicopters and death. It’s a masterful blend of make-believe and real life, of childhood imagination and adult drama. I Declare War is set in the fascinating world between them.
The generals pick teams and a base. You cannot move your base. When you are shot, you are paralysed until you count 10 steamboats. When you are hit with a grenade, you are dead. Go home. You win when your general captures the other team’s flag.
Those are the rules of war, set out in a colourful animated opening sequence, all scribbled letters and notebook doodles. From then on, it’s firmly adult business: grit, grime and grubby faces, as P.K. (Munroe) leads his troops in a fight against Quinn (Gouveia).
It’s an awesome piece of production design, from toys that become AK47s to water bombs that explode blood all over their tiny torsos. Directors Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson jump between the two extremes constantly, immersing you in the scale of combat while undermining it. One boy even has laser vision that makes things spontaneously combust.
The problem is that I Declare War never really moves beyond that premise: a bold statement that signifies a unique bout of conflict, but never leads to something more substantial. Scenes of shooting and stabbing soon begin to merge together in a repetitive cycle – something that is only helped by an interchangeable cast.
The young actors, who are mostly untrained, do a good job in selling their immature rivalries, but are given little to work with other than mildly clunky speech. A pathos bomb arrives with the suggestion that one unhinged soldier is simply seeking people to play with, but it’s deployed too late to change the tide of the battle. Compared to Son of Rambow, which contained a similar epic episode within a character-driven narrative, or Lord of the Flies, which used its child subjects to explore the deep issues of individual human nature versus pack mentality, Jason Lapeyre’s script is sadly lacking. I Declare War sets out its four rules with admirable ambition – but stays firmly within their boundaries.
I Declare War is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.