There was "The Day After," a U.S. production about as subtle as someone hitting you over the head with a bat going "Nuclear war is BAD! BAD BAD BAD!"
Then there was "Threads," the BBC answer to Day After. Gripping, yes. Also unrelentingly graphic, violent and disturbing with little in terms of acting.
Then you have "Testament," a quiet little American Playhouse production that, quite simply, runs circles around the other two. No mushroom clouds, no graphic scenes of mass destruction and death incarnate. Just simple, raw human emotion. "Testament" handles its subject manner with a surprising gentle touch, understated, yet effective. The film is the best of the three because of its subtlety. A small Californian town isn't hit by the blast, but rather the aftermath.
It works. At first, the town manages to hold together fairly well, even proceeding with the elementary school play. But then the children begin dying, then the grownups. And the film rapidly becomes a story about surviving as best you can, rather than rebuilding and going on. I won't spoil the film by revealing plot details, but there are several twists that are both subtle and heartbreaking.
This film relies on its emotions to tell the story, and the actors are up to the task. Jane Alexander is, in a word, brilliant (how she didn't win the Oscar she got nominated for is beyond me), but she's not the only one. Her children, particularly Lukas Haas and Roxanna Zal (in their movie debuts), are stunning as well, while some of the bit players make the most of what they have.
In the end, it's the gradual NON-appearance of the actors that make the point. Life will go on, yes, but for how long? "Testament" relies on the loss of those we learn to love to make its point in the best way possible: by letting us get it on our own.
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