An announcement that the venerable Bunker Hill Military Academy, a 141 year old institute, is to be torn down and replaced with condos sets off the young cadets led by their stodgy commander. Under the command of a student cadet major, the cadets seize the campus, refuse entry of the construction crews and ultimately confront the real military.
I was blown away by this film. BLOWN AWAY! I have never heard of TAPS before I watched in it in 2011, 30 years after the film came out. It stars two heavyweight Hollywood actors, in Sean Penn and Tom Cruise, who were just beginning their careers, and another actor in Timothy Dalton whose career is pretty darn good. So why haven't I heard more about this film? Because this has got to be one of the best movies I've seen made in the 1980s.
TAPS is about the misguided youth and how you need to experience a full life when growing up or else you could be in a bit of trouble. As the cliche says, "It takes a village to raise a child!", and after you watch TAPS you understand how true that phrase is.
A group of kids grow up in a military school and really have only one mentor in General Harlan Bache (played by George C. Scott). He's taught his kids an idealized version of life. The General is smart and had great intentions, but he's living in a past world that doesn't fit with the 1980s world these teenagers and youths are living in. In this military school, the gates are closed in from society and all these kids know is each other and the General. So they assume this is how the world works.
When a chain of events causes these kids to lose all they've ever known in the world, they react like they think the General has taught them. And they react with a full arsenal of guns, rifles, grenades, bombs etc... A dangerous combination: Misguided ideals + emotional pain of a lost love + guns = a tragic outcome. And that's what happens in TAPS.
The fist half hour of the film, I was confused because all we see is a set of military routines. From their school life, to their living quarters, to their basic interactions with each other. The 1st act is very slow moving. But the rest of the movie works because of that beginning as we truly understand what these kids are fighting for.
The great thing about TAPS is that we always stay with the kids during the stand off. In other movies, the story would go to both sides of the gate. We would be taken into the world of the kid's parents and police and hear their side of the story. But this film stays 100% with the kids. We hear the parents and police from afar, but only from the perspective and point of view of the kids. So what happens is that we the audience begin to relate with them and even understand their point of view. Many of us even stay on the kids side and would join their cult if they were in the film too. And that's what makes this film great!
Another interesting thing about TAPS when watching it with 2011 eyes is how each of the three leads are miscast by today's point of view.
TIMOTHY DALTON plays the leader of the group. The boy that all the kids have the ultimate respect for. He's a true leading man.
SEAN PENN plays the sensitive sidekick to the leader. The only one with enough perspective to understand that perhaps this isn't the best thing they are doing. But stays with them because of his loyalty and love for Dalton's character.
TOM CRUISE plays the red beret living on the edge character. He always has a machine gun in his hand and is desperately looking for any opportunity to use it. The kind of guy you'd want on your side if you ever get into a fight. You like him because of that but you don't trust him because he's not all there.
If they made TAPS now, TOM CRUSE would play TIMOTHY DALTON'S character. SEAN PENN would by TOM CRUISE'S character. And TIMOTHY DALTON would play SEAN PENN'S character. Because those are the character's they usually played in future film roles. And having these young character's all play off type by 2011's standards, makes this film that much better.
Tom Cruise doesn't even discuss this film when he talks about his career. According to his biographers, Risky Business was his first Hollywood film. And the irony of that is his performance in TAPS is his best performance of his career. He's never been more real. So what's he so ashamed of? Because he's playing a bit of a crazy man?!
If you haven't seen TAPS, please see it. It's the best teen film ever made.