Civic Duty

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
Civic Duty Movie Poster Image
Terrorism themes + paranoia = not for kids.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 94 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The increasingly paranoid protagonist looks more and more untrustworthy; the neighbor he suspects of terrorism poses difficult questions about vengeance, grief, and honor; police and FBI appear generally ineffective.

Violence

Repeated reports and warnings about terrorist violence (bombs, virus, poison, battles) include numbers of lives lost; reports on hate crimes include brief glimpses of news-style footage. Character uses a gun to hold a hostage; some fighting leaves men with bloody faces and bruises; SWAT team with automatic weapons storms a door; police takedown involves smashing their target to the ground.

Sex

Kissing and standard in-bed sex between husband and wife (silhouetted close-ups of faces and arms, nothing explicit); joke about sex ("You wanna see my calculator, baby?"); discussion about wife's previous "fetish for rock stars."

Language

Profanity includes repeated use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "damn," and "ass." Racist terms are used as examples ("raghead," "camel jockey," "sand n---er").

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this mature thriller explores the connections between media-induced paranoia, individual madness, and terrorism. The focus on one man's increasingly doubtful perspective makes the plot ever murkier -- it's hard to tell what's real and what he's imagining. Violence includes hostage-taking at gunpoint, fighting/punching and bloody faces, a man hitting his wife, and a SWAT team storming a door with automatic weapons drawn. A brief early sex scene isn't explicit (close-ups of faces are shown in silhouette). Language reflects the movie's increasing tension and anger, with many uses of "f--k," plus "s--t" and a string of anti-Arab racist terms (including a variation on the "N" word).

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What's the story?

In this thriller, unemployed accountant Terry (Peter Krause) takes to heart all of the TV reports he hears about terrorist plots, Homeland Security Alert Levels, and keeping his eyes open for "suspicious" people. Newly unemployed, Terry is feeling increasingly angry, wretched, and worried when he spies a new neighbor -- Gabe Hassan (Khaled Abol Naga) -- moving in with few belongings. Suspecting the "Middle Eastern-looking guy" is a bad guy, he prowls the Internet in search of "Most Wanted" photos and follows Gabe around town. When Terry sort of-accidentally sneaks inside Gabe's apartment and finds beakers and tubes, he calls the FBI; Agent Hillary (Richard Schiff) tells him that he's paranoid. Still, Terry can't seem to help himself; his increasing irrationality upsets his wife so much that she leaves -- yet another sign to Terry that no one sees what he sees and that his perspective is special, acute, and right.

Is it any good?

Jeff Renfroe skillfully employs the camera so it looks like we're seeing Terry's perspective, framing close-ups at sharp angles and in deep, greenish-filtered shadows. When Terry at last confronts Gabe, the film lurches into a very tightly focused, essentially two-character standoff as they lob forceful, irate questions about revenge, righteousness, and morality at each other.

These questions are definitely complex and crucial: Would Terry want to avenge his own wife's death? How does ideology frame definitions of good and evil? But the film's subtler questions are just as pressing, as Terry becomes a product of both his personal situation and his broader cultural environment. Even when Terry thinks he's finally attaining self-control, the film suggests he's losing himself. To its credit, Civic Duty doesn't resolve this dilemma but instead leaves it to viewers' judgment -- keeping in mind that you're surrounded by the same media provocations that Terry is.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the media's effect on people's fears and opinions of others. For example, do TV news reports frame reports of terrorist threats in a way that encourages viewers to suspect their neighbors or distrust people who look or act different from them? If so, how and why? Are news reports ever truly objective? How would you respond to someone who looks "suspicious"? And who defines what "suspicious" means in the first place?

Movie details

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