140 Character Movie Review – #140RVW
A masterful thriller from a time when family entertainment didn’t need to be cute or dumbed down. 30 years on it still plays extremely well.
Spoiler-free Movie Review of Cloak & Dagger:
The 30th anniversary reviews keep coming. I think I’m going to need some serious convincing that 1984 was not the single best year in history for movies. Despite not having a movie with the words Star Wars in the title, it was an amazing run of features.
There was a Gary Cooper film named Cloak & Dagger in 1946, but the 1984 Henry Thomas/Dabney Coleman movie isn’t actually a remake of that picture, but rather a remake of the film noir The Window (1949). (The Window was itself based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich called “The Boy Who Cried Murder”. The concept of a witness to a murder who needs to be silenced sure appears in a lot of movies…)
If you saw the movie in theaters during the first few weeks of its run beginning July 13, 1984, you saw it as a double feature with The Last Starfighter. I don’t remember if that’s how I saw it, but I vividly remember seeing the picture in the theater and running home to augment my Dungeons & Dragons games with Jack Flack and a spy game. I don’t think it had occurred to me before this that you could have role-playing adventures that didn’t involve swords and monsters. I remember looking through the role-playing supplements at the local bookstore and in TSR ads for any spy modules. I know they had a game called Top Secret, though I never played it.
Cloak & Dagger came out at that great time when not only was it ok to be into D&D and video games – it was actually cool. Along with pictures like WarGames, Tron & The Last Starfighter, it was a golden age…
In the movie, Davey Osbourne (Thomas) is an 11-year old fan of video games and stories, always wishing real life could be as exciting as the adventures of his RPG hero, Jack Flack (Coleman). Jack doesn’t just star in the Cloak & Dagger RPG and Atari video game of the same name, he is Davey’s imaginary friend who follows our young hero around as the boy tries to inject some excitement in his life. Davey’s real life is mundane and unsatisfying – his mother has recently died and his father Hal (also Coleman) is loving but dull, trying to raise an introverted son while his job as a military air traffic controller requires him to be often absent. Davey spends much of his time at the local gameshop (The Gamekeeper, a real store – in California, not the film’s location of San Antonio) with his younger neighbor Kim (Christina Nigra) playing C&D (I forgot that’s how the kids referred to it in the movie – love it).
Everything changes, however, when gameshop owner and dungeon master Morris (William Forsythe) sends the kids on an errand downtown and Davey alone witnesses a murder. A dying man in a lab coat gives Davey a Cloak & Dagger videogame cartridge with instructions to bring it to the FBI and give them a code number. MacGuffin successfully passed, the mysterious man dies, thrusting Davey into a real-life Cloak & Dagger adventure as the killers try to silence him and retrieve the cartridge.
Just writing out the synopsis makes me want to go watch the movie again. It’s just so good! A near perfect adventure for kids, the film is surprisingly serious as a thriller. While perfect for a young audience, it works for just about anyone as screenwriter Tom Holland and director Richard Franklin crafted a taut tale that doesn’t flinch from violence and real peril for the main characters. This is the only film either made that is even remotely family-friendly as they were known for pictures like Psycho II.
The kids are in serious danger for much of the film and are exposed to very adult situations. That no one believes them makes it all the more compelling. This combination of an allegory about growing up and the tone perfect understanding of what it must be like to be a kid in this situation makes the movie not just entertaining for a young audience, but also I think an important step in graduating to more complex material. I’d argue that it is as effective as many of the famous novels in depicting a time in a young persons life when things begin to get scarily adult and would be good in teaching kids to come to terms with this transition.
Due to the video game crash of the mid-1980’s, there never was an actual Atari 5200 Cloak & Dagger video game cartridge produced. The game did appear in arcades (Atari repurposed a game in development, Agent X, as a movie tie-in) which is better than The Last Starfighter achieved. Despite the inability to play the game at home on your Atari, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who re-enacted Jack Flack adventures with pencil & paper or running around the neighborhood pretending to be a spy.
Cloak & Dagger was one of my all-time favorite movies as a kid, and I’m amazed just how well it still works today as I revisit it. It was spellbinding to my daughter, watching it for the first time, and while I hope they never try to remake it (although I’m certain they will), I think that studying and trying to duplicate the spirit of this movie would be invaluable to modern filmmakers.
The Representation Test Score: C (6 pts)
|Main Cast||Henry Thomas Davey Osborne, Dabney Coleman Jack Flack/Hal Osborne, Michael Murphy Rice, Christina Nigra Kim Gardener|
|Release Date||Fri 10 Aug 1984 UTC|
|Genres||Action, Family, Adventure, Crime, Thriller, Mystery|
|Plot||11-year-old Davey, whose mother is dead and whose father doesn’t spend nearly enough time with him….|
|Tagline||Davey’s hero was imaginary . . . but the enemy agents were real!|
|Writers||Tom Holland (screen story), Tom Holland (screenplay)|