WarGames (1983)

“Shall we play a game?”

Synopsis:
After accidentally hacking into a governmental ‘game’ called “Global Thermonuclear Warfare”, a high school senior (Matthew Broderick) and his girlfriend (Ally Sheedy) are accused of spying for the Russians, and must find the only scientist (John Wood) who can shut the computer down in time to avoid nuclear war.

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Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary points out, this popular Cold War thriller for the teenage crowd possesses “fast and furious” pacing, “liberal doses of humor”, and “appealing leads”. I well remember going to see it in the theater as a kid, and feeling not only genuine panic about the precarious state of our world, but empathy for the likeable Broderick, who gets himself (and all of humanity) into a lot more trouble than he ever anticipated. As he laments to Sheedy, “I wish I didn’t know about any of this. I wish I was like everybody else in the world, and tomorrow it would just be over.”

Rewatching the film recently as an adult, however, I can’t help agreeing with Peary’s frustration that the teens’ “casual crime of tapping into their school’s computer to alter their grades is treated humorously and condoned.” It’s also a shame, as Peary and many other critics have pointed out, that the adults in WarGames all come across as age-ist, ignorant jerks. On the other hand, this is a film paying “tribute to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of young people”, so perhaps these teenage heroes deserve their day of glory–

P.S. If you’d like to read about a real-life hacker, check out Jonathan Littman’s fascinating book The Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen (1997)

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Matthew Broderick as the first “regular person” computer whiz on the big screen
    Matthew Broderick
  • Ally Sheedy as Broderick’s appealing girlfriend
    Ally Sheedy
  • A genuinely tense and exciting denouement

Must See?
Yes. This is one of the better Cold War-era thrillers, and holds a special place in ’80s film history.

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One Response to “WarGames (1983)”

  1. A once-and-done must; and rather in agreement with the assessment. This is a crowd-pleaser with a terrific premise but, for various reasons, it doesn’t lend itself to repeat viewings – instead, it succeeds as a thrill-ride popcorn movie, albeit with genuinely scary commentary on how technology can/could render us vulnerable. It’s somewhat like ‘Dr. Strangelove’ for teens.

    For me personally, the most terrifying sequence opens the film – this establishing scene goes somewhere we don’t expect and is a sobering statement on humanity. While the rest of the movie is certainly tense, it is simultaneously formulaic with its simplistic ‘someone must save the day’ blueprint.

    You don’t watch a movie like this for the performances. Broderick is, to a degree, an appealing presence here but, let’s face it, there’s something creepy about his character; as is commented on in the film, he’s an anti-social ‘type’ who appears to get off on his hacking ability. Of course, Broderick’s boyishness obscures that. As for Sheedy, she’s perky and all, but this is the type of role she would eventually rebel against playing over and over (compare this with her light-years-away work in 1998’s ‘High Art’).

    Oddly enough, my favorite character here is the middle-aged techie who early on explains about ‘war games’ and is played convincingly by former off-off Broadway actor Irving Metzman (who, along with John Wood, would appear to good effect two years later in ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’).

    I do wish this film had a less bombastic score but it is the kind designed for a film for the masses, so…

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