A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that because Acts of Violence devalues human life, promotes murder as a first-resort problem-solver, and feeds into harmful stereotypes, it isn't appropriate for impressionable viewers. Violence includes many shoot-first, ask-questions-never gunfights. Plus, law enforcement officers break the law and are otherwise incompetent, a military veteran is in emotional distress until he gets to kill people again, and women are kidnapped and drugged for sexual slavery. Language is strong ("f--k," "s--t," and more), and people of color appear only as one-dimensional, cowardly, super-evil villains.
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What's the story?
In ACTS OF VIOLENCE, three close-knit brothers (Cole Hauser, Shawn Ashmore, and Ashton Holmes) in Cleveland are jolted when one's fiancée (Melissa Bolona) is kidnapped by human traffickers. On the case -- or at least on similar cases -- are Det. James Avery (Bruce Willis) and his partner/subordinate Det. Brooke Baker (Sophia Bush). When the brothers decide within minutes that the authorities will be ineffective, they become a vigilante unit, rampaging through the city with automatic weapons, sniper rifles, C-4, and other stuff.
Is it any good?
This film devalues human life, spits on the law, promotes damaging stereotypes of veterans and people of color, and does it all without a hint of intelligence or originality. It's pretty rough when the best thing you can say about a movie is "The actors look good using weapons." So kudos to stunt coordinator T.J. White (or whoever trained them). Otherwise, Acts of Violence is a mishmash of vigilante-movie clichés and a fairly direct rip-off of Taken, without the tension. In the actor's dictionary under "Paycheck Movie," there's likely now a picture of Willis sitting at his detective characters's desk, conducting a low-energy "argument" with a troubled veteran (the brother played by Hauser) who's about to go all Rambo with his untrained brothers. Willis' enervated performance starts with a sleepwalked raid in the film's opening minutes and never perks up. As his character's partner, Bush has so much more energy and precision in her performance that you genuinely wish that he had even less screen time than the limited amount he already does, and that she had more. To be clear, although this is a Willis-headlined shoot-'em-up, he's here for name recognition only -- this is Hauser's movie. And, as always, he handles himself well in the action scenes. But there's nothing holding the shoot-outs together.
Acts of Violence is, simply, a full-throated, empty-brained endorsement of vigilanteism. In Acts' view, the police are too weak and stupid to, say, question witnesses (they don't -- in fact, they don't do anything resembling police work, apart from arresting the "good guys"). So it's up to citizens to mount up with their trucks and automatic weapons. (By the way, it apparently takes only a few minutes of "training" under extreme emotional duress to become a gun-toting crime fighter or even an amazingly accurate combat sniper, according to this movie.) Acts seems to want to portray the troubled-vet brother sympathetically by showing him seeking help for his PTSD from an impacted VA and writing poetry to boot. Instead, he comes alive only by putting lots and lots of people to death. Cleveland natives, aware of their home's status as a high-crime-rate city, would still likely be quite startled by the movie's portrayal of their town as a leading hub of human trafficking. Likewise, the roughly one-third white, more than half-black population would have to wonder why the only people of color in the film are cowardly criminals or kidnap victims with no lines. Or why a woman who just had an aggressive run-in with lowlifes at a bar would decide to hang around by herself in a dark, lonely alley. Or why the filmmakers think a bad guy's deal with the feds means he now has carte blanche to openly conduct a human-trafficking operation. Presumably you check your thinking cap at the door for this sort of exercise, but the film's willful ignorance is egregious, even for the genre. The worst Acts of Violence here are to viewers' brain cells.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how vigilante justice is portrayed in movies like Acts of Violence. How are people who take the law into their own hands typically depicted? Does this film seem to approve or disapprove of such actions? How can you tell?
The film takes place in Cleveland, which has a pretty diverse population. Yet the only people of color in the film are cowardly criminals and silent kidnap victims. Did you notice that? What message does that send?
Do you think the characters, including the police, behaved intelligently? Realistically? Does that matter in a movie?
- In theaters: January 12, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: March 26, 2018
- Cast: Bruce Willis, Cole Hauser, Shawn Ashmore
- Director: Brett Donowho
- Studio: Lionsgate Premiere
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 86 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, language throughout, sexuality/nudity and drug material
For kids who love action
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.