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  Testament Everything Must Go
Year: 1983
Director: Lynne Littman
Stars: Jane Alexander, William Devane, Ross Harris, Roxana Zal, Lukas Haas, Philip Anglim, Lilia Skala, Leon Ames, Lurene Tuttle, Rebecca De Mornay, Kevin Costner, Mako, Mico Olmos, Gerry Murillo, J. Brennan Smith, Lesley Woods, William G. Schilling
Genre: Drama, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's just another ordinary day in a Californian small town, but for housewife Carol Wetherly (Jane Alexander) and her family it will be the last ordinary day they will ever experience. Not knowing of the devastation to come, they carry on as they always have, as Carol's businessman husband Tom (William Devane) gets up early, rouses his eldest son Brad (Ross Harris) and they both go cycling around the neighbourhood, Brad somewhat reluctantly. Meanwhile daughter Mary Liz (Roxana Zal) practices at the piano while her breakfast is getting cold, and youngest son Scottie (Lukas Haas) is more concerned with causing minor chaos. Sadly, things will never be the same again.

A science fiction film for those who don't like science fiction, Testament sombrely depicts that eighties preoccupation, the much dreaded nuclear war that thankfully never came to pass. The same year that this was released miniseries The Day After was broadcast too, and in a way stole some of this film's thunder, but while the miniseries now looks histrionic and over the top, by staying quiet Testament is the more effective work. Scripted by John Sacret Young from Carol Amen's short story, it was originally intended for television, but considered so well made that it was released to cinemas, winning the excellent Alexander an Oscar nomination in the process (and making the cast a bit more money, too).

The way the bomb drops is sickening, but not depicted by way of any huge special effects budget. Suddenly, as the family are waiting for Tom to return home and watching television, the picture cuts out, and after a few seconds of static a newsreader appears onscreen to inform them that a nuclear attack has commenced. We have seen no footage of troops amassing on that television, nor hear of any diplomatic incidents or even warmongering, so it's only knowing what the film is about beforehand that prepares us for what happens: a flash of light through the windows and then silence.

The nuclear war drama of the day, whether it be Threads, The Day After or an Italian post-apocalypse adventure, would always feature the survivors stumbling around the rubble of a devastated landscape, but here the town escapes the worst of the blasts. It will not, however, escape the fallout and radiation poisoning. At first the townsfolk try to get organised in the face of the disaster, communing in the town hall and seeing what can be done about looting or food and water supplies. But the local doctor has ominous news: the radiation will cause eventual disease and death and nobody has a clue what to do about that.

So Testament settles into a examination of Carol's family as it begins to fall apart, initially as Tom is lost, apparently forever, on his way back from San Francisco. Then small, tragic details accumulate, as Scottie runs away and buries his toys in the local graveyard (which is getting more full by the day), and death encroaches on Carol's loved ones. For the greater part of the film, the situation is portrayed with sorrow, until, near the end, Carol sinks to her knees at a mass burning of bodies and shouts, "Oh, who did this? God damn you!", and a little more righteous anger might have given the film a more scathing tone. As it is, there's a sense that this is Armageddon for nice people, but the horrible inevitability of the deaths nevertheless contains a bleak power. Here any hope for the future lies not with the characters, but with the audience. Music by James Horner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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