Cloak & Dagger (1984) – A Review
Bullets whizzing around. Switchblades flicking open. Bad guys trying to kill our twelve-year-old hero. Shocking jump scares. Blood spurting. Scary old people with missing fingers. Threats of shooting a kid in the knee caps. Dead bodies piling up. Even a rat gets shot.
Parental guidance suggested.
Ah the good old PG-rated movies of the 80’s. A PG-rated film could have some edge to it back then. Little kids could excitedly enjoy some intense, violent aspects in films without ever thinking twice about it.
Oh yeah that ‘parental guidance’ thing – no one paid much mind to it. Parents weren’t too concerned with that, or at least mine weren’t. In 1985 the new PG-13 rating would be born and would eventually make ‘PG’ rated films practically extinct. But at the time, yeah kids go enjoy the nice little movie with the kid from E.T.
Wait a second, did you say a rat gets shot???
Cloak & Dagger was one of those flicks that combined a lot of my favorite stuff in my adolescent age into one cool movie that I ended up watching countless times. Video games, role playing, spy stuff, walkie talkies and a kid getting into a pretty cool adventure. Mom I’ll take out the garbage later ok? I’m going to watch Cloak & Dagger for the seventeenth time!
Davey Osbourne (Henry Thomas) is a game-loving, fantasy-playing kid in Antonio Texas. His mother has died and now it’s just him and his father. Unfortunately Hal Osbourne (Dabney Coleman) is too preoccupied with his military job to spend much time with Davey and becomes a distant figure.
To replace his absent father Davey fantasizes of hanging out with his hero from his favorite espionage game Cloak & Dagger – Jack Flack (also Coleman). Jack helps Davey out in his imaginary adventures, assisting Davey to navigate pretend obstacles and schooling him in shooting at bad guys with a water gun. But these pretend games are getting kind of boring. If only Davey could play a real spy game that wasn’t pretend!
Davey gets his wish when a dying man hands him a video game cartridge containing government secrets and these dangerous bad guys led by Dr. Rice (Michael Murphy) are more than willing to kill him to get it back. Even if his father doesn’t believe him Davey has his friend Kim (Christina Nigra) to lend support and of course Jack Flack right by his side offering his expertise of how to outwit these baddies.
Typically when one thinks of a kid-spy movie they might envision silly gadgets, cartoonish bad guys, over-the-top action sequences and the kid running around like a smaller version of Roger Moore. That’s not what Cloak & Dagger is. This isn’t a companion piece to Agent Cody Banks. This is more like the kid version of Three Days of the Condor.
This is a much more real presentation of a kid-spy movie. The premise might be extraordinary, but pretty much everything that follows plays much more realistic than you might expect. Tension-filled scenes of Davey running from the bad guys in his house, a parking deck, at the park, even a spy drop at the Alamo and they’re all pretty well done.
Now thinking about it, Cloak & Dagger and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure were I think my first introductions to the Alamo.
Because of it being a little kid trying to survive the threat of three grown men gunning for him and having him only to rely on his smarts (along with Jack Flack’s advice) makes you root for Davey all the more rather than if they gave him suction cup-sneakers or a jet-pack or something outrageous like that.
This is just Davey running through crowds asking adults for help who pay no attention to this silly game the kid is playing. All Davey’s running around is accompanied by a pretty good score too.
The gimmick of Jack Flack tagging along with Davey might sound like trouble, but Coleman is really engaging in the role and I really start to like this guy.
At this point Coleman was pegged as playing unlikable characters like the boss from 9 to 5, here he’s the complete opposite. I have no idea how they decided to cast him in this part. He’s certainly not the first person I would think of to play an imaginary spy hero, but he’s pretty good in this.
Jack is a much more subdued presence in the movie than what could have easily happened with him. He provides some humor and his appearances and mentoring of Davey never pushes the film into that silly spy-kid territory.
Along with E.T., here Thomas shows he was one of those rare non-annoying child actors. He’s really good. I can believe him as being just a regular kid fairly easily. There was something very natural about him in E.T. and here.
Watching it years later I still dig it and it brings me back to those lazy Saturday afternoons watching it on HBO. There are some pretty hefty leaps of logic that pop up and you have to just accept some convenient coincidences, but it’s still entertaining.
I’m betting if this was made today a lot of things would be really toned down. We would see a much more Disney-fied, family friendly flick. I couldn’t imagine they would try to get away with some of the jump scares and violence in a movie targeted towards kids nowadays. They would almost certainly drop the rat getting shot.
If Cloak & Dagger were done today it would never get that PG rating. But it was a different time back in 1984.
An interesting note, Cloak & Dagger is a loose remake of the terrific 1949 film The Window.