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Cinema Signal:

Great Books for Boys:
More Than 600 Books for Boys 2 to 14

. "I Am David"

Despite some recognition by minor festivals and to the joy of overprotective mothers, this story of a boy who escapes from a Bulgarian labor camp in 1952 is a mostly juvenile effort by people far too into oversentimentalizing reality. Mostly it's unreal, bloodless and boring but if it's a sanitized fable of wartime childhood you're looking for, this is it.

Pre-teen David (Ben Tibber) has grown up as a prisoner under the heel of the fascists who run a camp whose function appears to be the breaking up of rocks. His sole friend is much older Johannes (Jim Caviezel) who mentors him as a father. When Johannes is shot dead over a stolen bar of soap, David is given instructions on how to escape, where to go, the advice to "trust no one," a bag of essentials including a compass, a pocket knife, a bar of soap and a sealed envelope for delivery to whoever meets him at his destination in Denmark.

The episodes of his journey are weakly conceived idealizations by a female author to describe a boy's mind during an adventure. It's as true to life as a fairy tale. After days with no food, the traveler comes into a small village where he finds a bakery. The baker unexplainably invites him inside where, under a promise to return and feed him, he leaves in order to call in the authorities. David is surrounded by loaves of bread, but stoically touches none of them. We can imagine what the smell of them must be putting his gastric reactions through, but his hands remain at his sides, obedient and unnatural.

When he sees the baker returning with two officers, does he grab a loaf and run as any starving boy would be expected to do for his own preservation? No, no, nothing so depraved is allowed in the conduct of this idealized portrait. Nothing may enter here that even suggests deliquency, not even at the point of starvation. As an attempt at drama this is more a tract on morality and goodness.

Not helping an essentially bloodless script (written by director Paul Feig from a novel by Anne Holm) is the casting of the central character. It is difficult to imagine a less dynamic young actor than Ben Tibber, or one so physically awkward, one-dimensional, robotic and expressionless. Whatever qualities caused him to be handed a lead role might have been found tenfold in hundreds of compelling Europeans of the same age.

Joan Plowright lends her grandmotherly warmth to the scenario in a penultimate episode of similar sentimentality while director-writer Feig unashamedly plays a lost American and one more job for which he demonstrates little talent. Jim Cavaziel ("The Passion of the Christ") upholds himself best with his signature sensitivity as David's empathetic friend in slavery.

This is a boy's adventure seen through a gauzy feminine filter. The ineptness of the writing is exceeded by the stiff, predictable staging. Everything's controlled, the starving boy is well fed, the situations ever comfortable and unconvincing. It's cocoon of safety and exemplary conduct provides little reason for anyone past high school age to waste their time on it. Get out the Gameboy instead.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
I've seen the movie and disagree with the review
Site rating: 6

I was moved by the ending. I thought the life progress theme was real and Joan Plowright's explaination of good and bad was real. The pain and the boy's journey through it to a better place was moving to me.

                                                           ~~ Richard C. 
Off base
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
The description of the lead boy actor fit the character being protrayed. If you know the whole story and why the bar of soap is so important you would understand why a starving boy would not steal a loaf of bread.
                                                           ~~ Darwin K. 
Ed. note: In other words, in order to understand the movie you must first read the book.]

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Ben Tibber and Joan Plowright
Immediate endearment between David and Sophie

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