Quickie Review: By Dawn’s Early Light (dir. by Jack Sholder)


1990’s By Dawn’s Early Light is a telefilm adaptation by HBO of William Prochnau’s novel Trinity’s Child. The movie when it first aired on HBO seemed dated since the Soviet Union was ultimately going through its death throes as the military build-up initiated during the Reagan Administration crippled the USSR economically as they too tried to match the build-up in conventional and nuclear forces. Yet, despite the ending of the Cold War recent events domestically and around the world has made this HBO film seem less dated and quite timely.

The film is simplicity in the way the plot unfolds. A failed coup by dissident Soviet military commanders fails, but it’s after-effects of creating a “hot war” between the US and the USSR succeeds as both US President and Soviet Premiere make mistakes in their decisions. Decisions heavily influenced by their military commanders who see only black and white in how their respective nations should respond militarily. By Dawn’s Early Light shares some similarities to the classic 60’s Cold War films like Dr. Strangelove and Fail-Safe. Both films deal with the human frailties and flaws helping influence events that could lead to nuclear armagaddon for the whole planet. By Dawn’s Early Light concentrates on several storylines to highlight the stress and difficulties individuals must face to either follow their orders to their inevitable conclusion or allow their conscience to help make their decisions in trying to stop the madness spiraling out of control. Though some people’s decisions are left wanting, the film ends with a glimmer of hope that may just bring the world from the brink of annihilation.

The acting by the cast of Rebecca DeMornay, Powers Boothe, James Earl Jones, Darrin McGavin, Martin Landau and Rip Torn are well done. Rebeccan DeMornay and Powers Boothe anchor one of the subplots as romantically involved B-52 crew pilots whose conflict comes from their own intimate closeness affecting command decisions and from the stress of families lost by the rest of the bomber crew. Darrin McGavin, Rip Torn and Martin Landau anchor the other subplot of competing Presidents. One a physically incapacitated US leader trying to avert escalating the conflict to the point of no return with another recently sworn in who fears of losing a nuclear war and thus wanting to strike back full and hard. In between these two leaders is the diabolical performance by Rip Torn as a warmongering Army colonel who sees only winning the war as the only objective. For a telefilm the acting is above-par and bordering on excellent. There’s not a weak link in this cast.

In the end, the film might look abit dated in its production design, but the story itself is very current and relevant.  What might have been a nice Cold War relic fairy tale when it first aired in 1990 on HBO has taken on more of a cautionary tale as more nations begin to acquire nuclear weapons with some of these nations not just enemies of the US and the world in general, but also led by men whose hold on sanity seem tenuous at best. By Dawn’s Early Light is a great piece political “what if” that hopefully remains just that and not a prediction of reality to come.