Based on a true story, War Eagle, Arkansas has won more than 20 Best Picture and Best Actor awards in film festivals throughout the country with its inspiring story of a high school baseball star who must choose between pursuing a college sports career and staying near family and friends in his struggling rural Ozark mountains community. Enoch Cass (LUKE GRIMES) wishes to hold on to loved-ones, including lifelong best friend Samuel Macon (DAN McCABE) whom he affectionately calls Wheels; because of his wheelchair. The two share an enduring spirit strengthened by Samuel's Cerebral Palsy and Enoch's debilitating stutter, both of which have kept them in need of each other for much of their lives. The film is endorsed by United Cerebral Palsy and Easter Seals. ... ... Expanded Synopsis: War Eagle, Arkansas is an emotionally and driven drama about a young man s choice of whether to leave his family and friends for a career in baseball or stay and redeem his struggling community. The story takes place over a few pivotal weeks in the summer after Enoch Cass s senior year, and is set against the backdrop of Arkansas beautiful Ozark Mountains. Enoch Cass (played by Luke Grimes) has two gifts; the first is baseball, and the second is the innate goodness he possesses as he holds his family, members of his community, and most of all, his friendship with Samuel Wheels Macon, together. However, Enoch s Achilles heel is the fact that he has a debilitating stutter and can rarely manage a complete sentence. Wheels (played by Dan McCabe) is Enoch s best friend, and has cerebral palsy. He has been confined to a wheelchair since early childhood, which is how long these two have been inseparable. Wheels spirit knows no bounds, and combined with Enoch s inability to articulate, the two have relied on one another to make themselves one completely functional human being...though without each other, they are nothing. However, the story finds these two at the crossroads of childhood and independence, the moment where Enoch has to decide if he will put away the things of his youth to pursue his own interests, or remain shackled to his hometown and its people. Enoch s domineering grandfather, Eugene Pop Cass (played by Brian Dennehy) wants nothing more than for his grandson to get a baseball scholarship to a major school and get out of the town he feels he himself was sentenced to forty years before after being forced to abandon his own minor league career. Enoch s mother, Belle Cass (played by Mare Winningham) often comes into conflict with Pop over these issues, while Enoch also seeks counsel from Jack (played by James MacDaniel), an older African American man he works with, as well as Wheels mother, Jessie (played by Mary Kay Place). After Enoch performs well in the All Star game, he is quickly seduced by the new found attention he s being given both by interested colleges and Abby (played by Misti Traya), a girl Enoch has had a crush on for some time. As all this happens, Enoch s friendship with Wheels becomes more and more distant and finally begins to dissolve. As the film reaches its dramatic climax, Enoch must choose between his best friend, a baseball career, his girlfriend, and the inherent love he feels for his community. Funny and moving War Eagle, Arkansas is just one big love song to everything worth loving, particularly the hard and unlovable things. War Eagle, Arkansas poses important questions that face all young people in rural America. The answers we find could touch us all.
War Eagle, Arkansas deserves the hype: It did the heart good to see the massive turnout for War Eagle, Arkansas, the premier film for this year's Little Rock Film Festival Riverdale was so packed that roughly 150 people had to be turned away, even after the theater opened a third screen at the last minute. Fittingly, the film ended up taking home the inaugural Charles B. Pierce Award for Arkansas Film. How much better, then, that the movie didn't suck. Indeed, it was a damn fine film, about as honest and pretty and true a love song to small town life in the Ozarks as anyone could muster. It managed to avoid going all Folksy McLeghorn on us. It managed to avoid lionizing or demonizing life in the road's wide spot. It managed to avoid self-conscious use of y'all and references to kudzu and lemonade. It simply was what it was, a story about friendship and the pull between dreams and limitations. War Eagle is about two young men about to graduate high school. Enoch (Luke Grimes) is War Eagle High's star pitcher, yet he's insecure, mostly because he has two things star pitchers aren't supposed to have: a love of poetry and a prodigious stutter. His only friend is Wheels (Dan McCabe), a gawky string bean of a boy bound to a wheelchair by severe cerebral palsy. Wheels has found freedom in being completely screwed by life; he can be himself without concern for (or indeed any hope of) ever fitting in. Pretty much all of Enoch's spare time is spent hanging out with and helping care for Wheels, and Wheels does his share in return, even managing to hook Enoch up with a local girl and pester a scout from Tennessee Southern to come watch him pitch in the regional all-star game. It's only too late that Wheels begins to realize that by giving his friend a girlfriend and a scholarship, he's also given him a way out of their friendship forever. Enoch also stands unconvinced that this path is the best for him, but is too afraid to question anyone about it, least of all his grandfather, played by the always imposing Brian Dennehy. There's not really a weak spot anywhere in this film solid script, good directing, some stunning shots. Everyone turns in a good performance, most notably Grimes and McCabe, who play off one another like they've been lifelong friends. Grimes himself may have a budding career as a leading man, with his combination of good looks, earnestness and craft. He's sometimes reminiscent of a young Johnny Depp, which is probably the only thing hurting him in this role: No one that good looking would have that much trouble meeting girls. Of course having a movie set in a small Arkansas town all but guaranteed it a spot at this film festival, but it certainly had the chops to deserve the coveted opening slot. The film looks, feels and smells like an Arkansas summer. You can almost taste the lukewarm beer and smell the truck exhaust, not because War Eagle lays it on thick, but because it shows you everything in those hills as you've likely seen it yourself. I called it a love song before, and that's precisely what it is, though not exactly to War Eagle or to small towns in general or to anywhere in the South. War Eagle, Arkansas is just one big love song to everything worth loving, particularly the hard and unlovable things. --By Matthew Reed, Arkansas Times, May 22, 2008
REVIEW: War Eagle, Arkansas: More than a year after it won the Charles B. Pierce Award for Best Arkansas Film at the 2008 Little Rock Film Festival (it won several other awards at the multitude of film festivals it graced last year), Vincent Insalaco's War Eagle, Arkansas gets a theatrical release this week. If you missed it during the LRFF - or want to see it again - here's your chance. I've identified it as the producer's movie, which is a violation of the usual convenient fiction we employ of identifying the director as the author of a given movie. In this case it seems appropriate since the story began with Insalaco and the real-life friendship between his son, Vincent III, and Tim Ballany, a young man who's confined to a wheelchair. Screenwriter Graham Gordy, a Conway native, transposed the story to the titular village, imagining a friendship between socially inept but athletically gifted Enoch(Luke Grimes) and wheelchair-bound Sam Wheels; Macon (Dan McCabe), a profanely witty free spirit with cerebral palsy. Enoch is a promising high school baseball player with a debilitating speech defect; Wheels enjoys the freedom of the irretrievable misfit, a kid who necessarily operates outside the high school hierarchy. Enoch can't talk, Wheels can't shut up - together they make almost a whole personality, together they function. But these are kids with problems: Enoch is resentful of his demanding grandfather Pop (Brian Dennehy), who has transferred his own thwarted dreams of baseball glory to the kid. He's devoted to Wheels, who sometimes repays his loyalty with an acid-tongued verbosity that's often as cruel as it is truth-telling. This core relationship is strained when Enoch is presented with opportunities unavailable to Wheels. First he gets - with his friend's help - a girlfriend in Abby (Misti Traya). Later, the prospect of a baseball scholarship to an out-of-state college looms. Wheels can't help but resent Enoch's good luck, and suffering in silence just isn't his way. But he can't come right out and tell his friend he's jealous of his sound body and smoldering Elvisian good looks, now can he? Certainly not in War Eagle, where approved male activities include watching wrasslin' on TV and picking fights with the village lout (a small but accurate turn by Lynsee Provence, who filled a similar role in Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories). Salted through the drama are a host of fine character actors including Dennehy; Mare Winningham as Belle, Enoch's ever-mediating mom; Mary Kay Place as Wheels' hardworking, long-suffering mother; and James McDaniel as Jack, a black videostore manager who aspires to start his own church in the nearly all-white community. Setting the film in the idyllic rural community of War Eagle is a smart move - we can understand why Enoch loves the place and why Wheels feels trapped by it. Enoch's ultimate choice isn't conventional and may leave a portion of the audience dissatisfied, but it feels emotionally true if not necessarily smart. My opinion of the movie hasn't changed over the months - it's an example of tough-minded, well-executed independent filmmaking rooted in the specific circumstances of credible human characters that requires no special dispensation for being locally produced. It's a damn good movie, and everyone associated with it has a right to be proud. --BY Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 13, 2008
Little Rock Film Fest 2008: Day One: In just its second year the Little Rock Film Festival is looking to be a particularly excellent annual event. I showed up on the first night to find a huge crowd waiting to get in to see the opening film War Eagle, Arkansas. But since it was showing on three screens simultaneously I assumed I'd have no problem getting a seat. Silly me. Not only was each theater packed but all those people outside had to be turned away. If I hadn't used my journalistic wiles (begging to fest co-founder Owen Brainard) I might have been one of them. War Eagle, Arkansas is based on a true story and follows the summertime experiences of two close friends: Wheels who is confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy and Enoch, an all-star baseball player with a speech impediment who is trying to choose between going to college or staying in his hometown of War Eagle to help his friend. Dan McCabe is incredibly convincing as the young man with C.P. A solid supporting cast includes veterans Brian Dennehy, Mary Kay Place, James McDaniel and Mare Winningham, all who give performances beyond the going through the motions style we've come to see so often in small, independent films. But the interaction between the two boys is what gives War Eagle its foundation. An inspiring script by young screenwriter Graham Gordy (co-writer to Mike Myers' The Love Guru) provides a depth of emotion. The boys are based on the lives of producer Vincent Insalaco's son and his best friend. Insalaco appropriately calls the film a love letter to the state of Arkansas especially since much of the film's creative team comes from the state, including newcomer Will Churchill who did the music. Afterwards we migrated to the famous Peabody Hotel for the opening party. With some terrific Grappelli-flavored tunes from Thurman & Nesbitt we mingled and noshed and elbow-rubbed with filmmakers and celebrities, some beyond worthy such as Minniejean Brown, one of the Little Rock Nine, the black teenagers who made history when they dared to enter an all-white high school during desegregation in 1957 Little Rock. The school was featured on HBO's documentary Little Rock High: 50 Years Later, produced by festival co-founders Craig and Brent Renaud. Academy Award winning writer/director/actor Ray McKinnon showed up, as did part-time Ark. resident Judge Reinhold who was on hand earlier in the week for a look back at the classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. --By Tim Basham, Paste Magazine, May 22, 2008