Burn Country

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Burn Country Movie Poster Image
Drama about Afghan "fixer" in U.S. has mature content.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 102 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Sometimes people miss exactly what they thought they wanted to escape.

 

Positive Role Models & Representations

A brave Afghan journalist who got help escaping to the United States now has trouble finding a purpose. He stays with the mother of the American journalist he worked with; she's kind, smart, and welcoming. A cop in a small town settles domestic disputes, calming the yelling parties. A man admits to killing someone who "deserved" it.
 

Violence

A body with blood around the head is seen by the side of the road. A stalker chases a man and tackles him, then starts trying to strangle him. The victim grabs a rock and hits the attacker several times in the head until he falls unconscious. Later the stalker is seen alive with a head wound. Vandals set a mailbox on fire. Aggressive use of middle-finger gesture. Loud domestic dispute. Character recounts details of wartime attacks/injuries.

Sex

A couple strips down to their underwear and swims in the ocean. Osman is attracted to a local actress; after learning she's in an open relationship, he tries to kiss her, but she pulls away. Later she's seen astride her lover in her bra. A man says kids were spying on him while he masturbated.

Language

Regular use of strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "t-ts," "damn," and "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol. Characters smoke cigarettes and marijuana. Some characters appear to be high. It may be that a crime family is involved in drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Burn Country focuses on an Afghani reporter/translator who helped foreign journalists cover Afghanistan and is now living in the United States and seeking a new purpose. In his seemingly peaceful California community, he recounts bloody details of wartime attacks, injuries, and death, including tales of amputations and body parts strewn around. Scenes also show a bloody body by a roadside, and a man defends himself from an attacker by hitting the attacker's head with a rock. Adults smoke cigarettes and marijuana and drink alcohol. Characters strip to their underwear to go swimming, and a woman wearing a bra is seen with her lover. Expect to hear plenty of profanity, including "f--k," "s--t," "ass," and "t-ts." James Franco co-stars.

 

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What's the story?

BURN COUNTRY tells the story of Osman (Dominic Rains), an Afghani translator who helped American journalists cover his war-torn country and is now in exile. He thinks that the beautiful, seemingly sleepy Northern California town he's escaped to will be calmer than the dangerous place he's come from, but he's mistaken. Osman is staying with Gloria (Melissa Leo), the mother of an American journalist he worked with back in Afghanistan. She's a local police officer, and Osman's natural interest -- and her access to crime -- draws him into the messy lives of a renegade criminal family and its hangers-on. When a dead body appears and a local drunk/hot tub builder disappears, Osman's curiosity is aroused. But as it switches between scenes of Osman looking for trouble in California and those of the American journalist he worked with still in Afghanistan, running for cover from bombs and enemy fire, the movie suggests that Osman may be looking more for thrills than for meaning in his life.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Burn Country's violence. Which has more impact -- Osman's stories of wartime Afghanistan or the scenes of the attacks and the bloody body in the States? Why?

  • Osman says that observing so much violence in Afghanistan was exhausting. What else do you think being a witness to a lot of violence can do to a person?

  • How does the movie portray drinking and drug use? Are they glamorized at all? Why does that matter?

  • Do you think it would be hard to move to a new place and learn a new language and a new culture?

Movie details

For kids who love dramatic thrills

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