PG for thematic elements and
Dec. 3, 2004
Ben Tibber, James Caviezel, Joan Plowright,
Maria Bonnevie, Silvia De Santis
Lions Gate Films
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'I Am David'
By Nathaniel Bell
- It’s easy to mistake I Am David for a WWII drama,
with its gulags and fascist villains, but the film actually takes place just
after the war. Based on Anne Holm’s young adult novel and directed by
newcomer Paul Feig (who also wrote the screenplay), this resolutely old fashioned
family adventure follows the destiny of 12-year-old David (Ben Tibber) as
he flees from an Eastern European labor camp. Carrying nothing but a sealed
letter and a compass, he heads for Denmark with orders to deliver his cargo.
His journey, of course, is fraught with peril.
I Am David begins with a fairly gripping escape in which David dodges
searchlights, climbs barbed-wire fences, and slips past armed guards into
the safety of the countryside. What follows is a revelatory odyssey involving
chance encounters with chatty Italian seamen, a friendly Sicilian baker, and
an aristocratic family who allow David a moment’s solace. Providing
the story with dramatic heft is David’s anguished search for personal
identity. Haunted by memories of his mother, David marches on toward an uncertain
destination. He’s like a love-starved Dickensian orphan, bewildered
and sorely alone.
Feig’s camera is infatuated with David’s face, a pensive, serious
visage that implies a grownup’s maturity. Tibber is the right choice
for this role; he doesn’t ply for affection like most kid actors would.
In flashbacks that contain some of the film’s finer passages, Jim Caviezel
plays Johannes, a bespectacled father figure who teaches David about life
outside the camp. When David steals a bar of soap (the film is full of “cleansing”
imagery), Johannes winds up taking the rap.
Feig, who scored a hit with the television series Freaks and Geeks,
falters during some of the more crucial dramatic moments, and at this point
in his career, lacks an assured sense of pacing. I Am David is relentlessly
episodic in style and surprisingly small in scope despite its epic ambitions
(though the Bulgarian locations are picturesque). It eventually finds its
dramatic footing in the later scenes with Joan Plowright, who exudes grandmotherly
kindness as an English expatriate who helps smuggle David across the Swiss
The movie, with its choppy editing and ill-fitting soundtrack, is probably
better suited for the small screen (perhaps as a miniseries), yet the story
is so saturated with emotion it’s impossible not to get a lump in the
throat. It dares to be hopeful and life affirming in a way that most Hollywood
products completely ignore. When David learns to smile, you too may be smiling
through your tears.
I Am David is rated PG for thematic elements and violent content.
Nathaniel Bell is a film student at Biola University. Review used by
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