The year is 1952, and young David (Ben Tibber) is trapped in a Bulgarian prison camp after being forcibly separated from his parents. Slowly driven mad by this grim existence, David takes a chance to escape given to him by his friend (James Caviezel). Given a sealed envelope and explicit instructions to head north to Denmark, David begins a perilous journey across Europe on his own, meeting helpful and suspicious strangers (including Joan Plowright) along the way.
"I Am David" (IMDb listing) is a low budget, adventure-tinged drama, based on the novel by Anne Holm. It doesn't have much to work with in terms of epic scope or breathtaking production values, yet the picture retains a strong emotional center that deflects the slightly faulty drama and the occasionally weak performances. "David" isn't the tightest film, yet the true revelation of the film is that Paul Feig wrote and directed it.
For a tale about post-war action and drama, Feig isn't the first filmmaker who jumps to mind. The guiding force behind TV's "Freaks and Geeks," one of the best television shows of the last decade, Feig's skill with children actually makes him the ideal choice for this material. Since he's working with very little, Feig's gift with actors saves him in the end, drawing out a solid, quirky turn from Tibber, and a shockingly (and welcomingly) sedate one from Plowright. Feig also manages to convey David's long journey with nail-biting tension, with the first 45 minutes devoted entirely to David's harrowing jailbreak and his quick thinking on the road. Coming from ski jackets, John Bonham drum kits, and "Laser Floyd" to this is quite an impressive feat for Feig.
Assisted by a curious and interesting musical score from Stewart Copeland, "I Am David" doesn't go out of its way to pull heartstrings, but it ends up trampling a few in the end. After a series of sudden twists and turns, Feig pays off David's journey with great care, even if the conclusion feels very abrupt after all the audience has gone though. Though it looks like it was made for two nickels, "I Am David" resonates strongly, which is all this film is truly going after.
Filmfodder Grade: B-