Parents' Guide to

Burn Country

By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 16+

Drama about Afghan "fixer" in U.S. has mature content.

Movie NR 2016 102 minutes
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The plot of this drama meanders and, based on its ending, it seems the filmmakers aren't that interested in resolution. Burn Country was originally called The Fixer and is loosely based on director Ian Olds' own 2009 HBO documentary Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi. Both involve an Afghan journalist/translator/coordinator helping American journalists negotiate the perils of covering war-torn Afghanistan. Perhaps Olds' experience making documentaries, in which the plots come ready-made from real events, explains why he seems to pay less attention to events than character in this drama. But even favoring people (and their quirks) over plot feels mishandled here. Crimes have certainly been committed, but their motives -- and the exact perpetrators -- are left vague.

Also unclear is why, in just a few days, the supposedly war-hardened Osman develops loyalties to undeserving screw-ups. It might be possible that, at first, he believed the small town he'd landed in was a haven from evil. But no one in his line of work -- i.e. anticipating and avoiding danger -- could possibly be so naive after encountering so many clearly bad guys. How long would a fixer survive in a war zone thinking the best of everyone? Yet we're asked to accept that, after all he's seen on the job, he now worries about the safety of small-time criminals he barely knows. Nope. James Franco co-stars an over-the-top, intoxicated, and pathetic ne'er-do-well -- a heartfelt but cliched homage to all the ranters and ravers Dennis Hopper famously played in the same obvious manner. The saving grace is good performances by Rains, Leo, and the always interesting Rachel Brosnahan.

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