Taps is a 1981 dramatic film, starring Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Tom Cruise, Ronny Cox and George C. Scott, directed by Harold Becker. Hutton was nominated for a Golden Globe award in 1982 for his role in the film.The screenplay by Robert Mark Kamen, James Lineberger and Darryl Ponicsan is based on the novel Father Sky by Devery Freeman. The original music score is composed by Maurice Jarre. The film received a score of 77% on the website RottenTomatoes.com and 3 stars (out of four) from film critic Roger Ebert, who compared it to the classic novel Lord of the Flies.
The story takes place at Bunker Hill, a fictional military academy with a tradition of training young men for military service. When the story opens, a young cadet, Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton), is granted the rank of major and chief cadet officer. The academy commander, General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott) receives devastating news: the land where Bunker Hill stands is very valuable to local land developers and will be sold and replaced by condominiums.
A dance is held at the academy after commencement. As the cadets’ dates arrive, a group of local teenagers stand outside the gate, verbally harassing the cadets. A brawl breaks out when Moreland himself arrives to take control of the situation. Bache arrives shortly after and, during his attempts to break up the fight, his service pistol is seized by a local teenager and goes off, killing a young boy. Bache is arrested, seemingly to be charged with manslaughter. The cadets find out later that Bache has suffered a heart attack and is in critical condition in a nearby hospital.
The next morning, the Dean of Students and his staff are taking inventory in the academy’s weapons depot. Moreland overhears them talking about the distrust in the local community towards Bunker Hill and how the death of the young local has only exacerbated the community’s opinion. Moreland also hears that the academy will be closed immediately due to the shooting incident and that summer session will be canceled.
Moreland meets with his officers and they unanimously decide to take command of the campus by force. They remove all weapons and ammunition from the depot. When the Dean of Students arrives with the local police to confiscate all the munitions, they are met by Moreland who issues the cadets’ demands: the most important being that the academy will remain open.
Simultaneously, a detachment of cadets have gone to a local food supply warehouse to obtain provisions for the academy. On their way back one of their trucks breaks down at a traffic light. As Cadet Captain Dwyer (Sean Penn) attempts to fix the engine, a group of locals provokes a fight with the cadets. Another cadet, the hotheaded David Shawn (Tom Cruise), opens fire with his M16, shooting several bursts in the air. Abandoning the inoperable truck, the cadets flee the scene in the second truck, crashing into a police car in the process.
The cadets begin their occupation of the academy. Despite pleas from their parents which are broadcast over loudspeakers, they conduct themselves as a strict military operation. Moreland meets with his father, an Army sergeant, who berates him for his actions. During the heated argument, Moreland slaps his son. Brian orders his father and his companions to be escorted off the campus.
The siege of the campus grows more tense when the National Guard arrives. The commander, Colonel Kerby (Ronny Cox), negotiates with Moreland to no end. Moreland and his officers also face a new and growing problem; desertion. During the morning muster several officers report that a total of 11 cadets have climbed over the walls in the night to return home. A few days later, Moreland assembles the entire company and allows any cadets who wish the opportunity to leave the campus. At least half of the remaining cadets drop their weapons and walk out, including one of Moreland’s most trusted officers.
The cadets begin to run out of food and shortly after their water supply is turned off. When the electricity is turned off they attempt to restart the campus’ old and unused generator. The gasoline they use as fuel is ignited and one of the cadets is severely burned. As the boy is being taken out for treatment, Moreland demands to meet with Bache. Kerby informs Moreland that Bache had died the night before.
One night, a tank rolls up to the main gate and scans the immediate area. In a forward position, two of the youngest cadets talk about their fear and how they miss their families. Overcome, one of them runs toward the gate, dropping his rifle, which goes off. The soldiers outside the gate open fire, killing the boy’s companion who tries to go after him. When Kerby arrives to take the dead boy out, he gravely informs Moreland that he and his unit will invade the campus the next morning. Moreland stubbornly refuses to surrender.
The shooting of the young cadet weakens Moreland’s resolve considerably and, after conferring with Dwyer, he decides to end the occupation. He calls all the cadets out and orders them to surrender. Cadet Shawn, in a bunker set up in one of the dormitories, fires a non-fatal shot at Kerby, prompting the National Guard to return fire. Shawn empties his M16 and opens fire with an M60. Dwyer and Moreland run into the building to stop Shawn, just as a tank breaks down the main gate and lays in heavy fire on Shawn’s room. Both he and Moreland are killed when Moreland rushes into the room to stop him. The film ends with Dwyer weeping over them.