Friday, 4 November 2011

Toy Soldiers

For the second time his week I watched film at midnight which led to going to bed at 2 am and rising the next day at 10am. The film was the 1991 Drama Toy Soldiers. The core story is not original. Wayward rich kids become good when faced with life or death challenge. I have read that there has been criticism at the time of the violence involved given that it is film which would appeal to weekend audience of the teenager and young adult. From my perspective the violence content is well below that of the horror and blood lust available most weekends in most cinemas, nor did I find the violence gratuitous.

In Bogotá Columbia the son of a drug warlord has taken over the Palace of Justice to prevent his father being extradited to the USA. He had taken a number of staff hostage and hurtles a woman to her death from a window in order to exert further pressure on the authorities. When he finds out that the man is already in USA custody he takes the presiding judge away in their helicopter and hurtles him out of the craft once they are airborne.

The action switches to the Regis High School at an unknown destination in the United States which takes the wayward children of the rich and powerful and which have usually been expelled from other establishments. Interestingly they also have scholarship pupils whose parents think it is a bonus to participate. It is a small establishment in substantial grounds taking 93 pupils but a full compliment of staff enabling high academic attainment for those prepared to make the effort with fees to match. As is often the case the most troublesome have the most rich and well known parents and form an alliance of mischief which includes painting the car of the nearest town Sheriff with Rejects in pink as well as renaming the school front entrance board. Punished the group retaliate by moving the entire contents of the offices of school head and deputy out on to the front lawn reassembling exactly as in situ. The deputy, played by the excellent Denholm Elliott, admits he is tempted to spend the day in the sunshine. There are two more examples of their disinterest in formal education which are combined into one after bedtime adventure.

The group have made a den in the basement of now demolished building which they reach from the basement of the kitchen in the main building. Here they listen on speak telephone to adult phone line chat from a special phone which one of the group has rigged so that they use the extension line of the line of principal. They are also drinking the latest alcohol experience which is vodka with crème-de-menthe which tastes and looks like mouth wash in branded bottles and which the instigator has already sold eight bottles and great profit. Up late in his pyjamas and dressing gown the Principal detects the call and finds the den. Rather than expel the ring leader he says that he is determined to make something of the young man and his leadership potential.

Part of the group has been the son of the Federal Judge appointed to try the case of the extradited drug baron and suspecting an attempt will be made to kidnap the young man he is moved to a safe location. This is where the film falls down because anyone worth their salt in the Justice system would have posted additional security to the existing one person on the gate given the financial and political clout of the young men at the establishment.

We are privy to an incident on the Mexican Border when posing as migrants the son and his men not only kill the police of the border patrol but destroy the vehicle with a mobile rocket. This should have immediately alerted the authorities that the expected attack was on its way and take appropriate additional security measures. This also is the second time that I am mindful, albeit this film was made before 9/11 of the ease at which Terrorist are shown able to cross the border and make their way to the selected destination.

They arrive at school and take control with men placed on the roof of the main building and in the Bell tower, with others in the grounds and the in the building after comprehensively wiring the building with explosives so that if any of the wiring in touched the whole thing will explode. There are two detonating controls one stationery along the bomb control unit and the other a remote taped to the arm of the son. There are hourly head counts and where the departure of one person will lead to the death of five and so on. The gate guard was killed at their arrival and the Principal was the Sheriff and his painted car when they take over takes place so he is outside the building while inside his deputy has assumed the role without revealing the principal has departed. This is the second flaw because although the gangster leader gets his men to go through the files of all the boys he appears to have left those of the staff alone.

From this the leader of the group works out that there are sufficient of the rich and powerful to get their way including the son of a Mafia chief with whom drug baron has done good business. This man attends the parental briefing in the local town much to the interest of the authorities. He gets a message to the incarcerated drug lord who in turn gets a radio message to his son that the boy should be released. The gangsters have eliminated the phone system and use short wave radio to communicate.

Before this situation arises the group of the hostage kids have been put together with two others not previous of their group and this includes a technology whiz kid with a flying saucer plane with remote control. This is to be key to solving the crisis. Understandably the first White House reaction is one of we do not negotiate with Terrorists and the location of the school, the threat to explode and to kill is such that planning an assault is likely to mean casualties possibly on a large scale.

Meanwhile the self styled leader of the Rejects develops a three stage plan. The first is to provide those on the outside with the maximum intelligence so they portrait sketch all the Terrorists and provide a visual map of their location and timetable of movements as well as what they can of the wiring, the explosives and control devices. The second is that they could disable the ability to blow up the school by switching the chip in the main detonation unit to that in the flying saucer plane and thirdly to get the school into the den basement which would be protect from the blast if the school was exploded.

Having devised the plan the first task is to get it to those outside. To achieve this an elaborate plan is worked in which the plane is used to distract attention while the boy leader uses the their everyday means of getting out of the school and into town. The first part works well but when the boy leader runs into troops around the perimeter, instead of accepting the information and letting him get back before the next roll call he is taken to the command post and to which the school head is also taken by helicopter to identify the boy.

The commander says that the plan is too risky and that anyway the decision has been taken to try and negotiate and that the boy cannot return. He breaks away taking a jeep but because of the watch on the top of the house he is unable to move while the role call is made and finding that one is missing four boys and the deputy are selected for execution if the missing boy does not arrive. Two helicopters are used to distract attention and he arrives, takes off his clothes and gives himself a quick shower to arrive in the nick of time explaining he failed to hear the bell. He is taken to the Terrorist and Principal’s study where he is given several skin cuttings strokes on his backside because like the Terrorist leader he was uncontrollable until being disciplined in similar fashion.

Then events take a turn which leads to the suggested plan put into practice. As the Mafia leader admits to another colleague, his son really hates him, but he loves the boy and wants him taken out of the hostage situation. As mentioned the incarcerated Drug baron is able to get a coded message out via his lawyer after being informed of the situation which is then transmitted to his son and the boy is released. This is too much for the young man who does hate his father and has not wish to abandon his friends, attacks a guard and take a machine gun and is killed in an exchange of fire with another guard. The Son of the drug lord generally regrets the failure to release the boy and allows the Principal to come with appropriate officers to collect the body and for the teaching faculty bar the “Principal” to be released although they may have been released earlier as part of the negotiations and when they have been given 24 hours to reflect further on the demands.

The Mafia leader is understandable outraged by the death his son despite the protestations that it was accidental, and orders action which results in the murder of the Drug baron by other prisoners. This is another flaw because the man albeit on remand is being kept with other prisoners and an attempt is only made to move him when there appears to be rioting with setting things on fire.

The authorities realise that once the news of this gets to the son he is likely to retaliate by killing the boys and therefore an assault has to be made with the plan given to them the best and only way of trying to minimise the casualties. They therefore signal their intention to proceed by focusing a searchlight which until then moved around the ground on to the bedroom where the young leader’s party have been placed together. The young leader has been devastated by the death of his closest friend and his confidence undermined in the plan and has to be persuaded by the others to go ahead. They remain unaware that an assault is to be made anyway.

The final part of the film also has dramatic tension and immediate general believability. The power for the area of the school is cut off so that the news of the death of the father is prevented ant the terrorist say they will act if it is not switched back on within the hour. The principal draws on a map how the assault force can enter the grounds by the way used to get the plan out to them. I was surprised how small the force for this is which is just as well that the Principal told to stay behind decides to follow shortly.

There is good tension built as the boy leader with the help of one other uses the air conditioning system to get from a bathroom into the Principal’s Study and there switches the chips as the toy plane was not shot down or destroyed after confiscation but placed in the office which the boy leader noted when he was taken to be disciplined.

However during the assault one of the guards on the roof manages to drop a grenade on to the trio of government below as they are killed by battle helicopters. The principal finds two dead and one injured and immobile, takes a weapon and makes his way up to the balcony outside his office just in time to prevent the killing of the boy leader by the son of he Drug baron who was also about to tamper with the control unit to blow up the establishment after seeing the pressing of the remote set off just the toy plane and not the explosives. In the cross fire as those coming down from the helicopters and entering through windows in standard fashion reached the doorway of the room also open fire. The principle is shot in the shoulder and Terrorist leader show dead.

Meanwhile the rest of the boys plus the deputy have made their way to the hiding place where the deputy is fortified by some of the vodka that was not yielded to the principal previously.

Forgotten event was the death of a master attempting to save a boy who was trying to phone out. The boy lived but the mast dies making a total of two adults and one boy from the schools and, two special services with the head one special services injured.

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