A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Themes of family and determination. Messages are soft, but it's repeatedly stated that "the land will provide," and a person in power learns that no one is above the law.
Positive Role Models
Marines are shown to be heroic, brave, kind. The villain is a small-town sheriff, but a deputy is shown to have the integrity that's lacking in his boss. Female characters are depicted as brave and determined but also reliant on male characters for help.
A single mother who's also a volunteer fire chief is depicted as determined and resolute, though she's also shown to be in over her head (and often needing help from male characters to solve problems). A Black commanding officer in the Marines is a positive character but is only in one scene and is the only person of color in the film other than nameless Middle Easterners portrayed as enemies/insurgents.
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Violence & Scariness
Flashbacks of soldiers walking, their guns pointed, in a perilous situation in Afghanistan, including seeing insurgents shooting large guns. Separately, soldiers shown lying wounded on the ground; it's understood that one will die. In a frightening situation, a mother grabs and carries a very large shotgun. A golf club is swung around as a weapon but doesn't make impact. Person trapped inside a burning house.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
An adult drinks out of a brown bottle, which may be beer, but it's not clear.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dakota is a family drama about a Marine dog named Dakota who helps the family of his deceased handler. The handler's widow, Kate (Abbie Cornish), is overwhelmed by debt, duty to her community, and caring for her daughter, Alex (Lola Sultan). Kate is depicted as brave, confident, and determined, but not necessarily competent. She and Alex are the lead characters, but they never solve anything on their own: They're always aided by male characters. The villain is a small-town sheriff, but a deputy is shown to have the integrity that's lacking in his boss (who's also his brother -- it's a small town). While there's no language, sex, or substance use to worry about, you can expect some peril and a feeling of doom. Dakota whimpers while remembering the events leading to his handler's death; flashbacks to the battlefield are delivered in snippets to break up the intensity. The Marines' enemies are seen shooting guns, and wounded soldiers lie on the ground, with viewers already knowing that one of them will die. Scenes show someone trapped inside a burning building, but it ends up OK. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Dakota the dog can't quite fill the paw prints of Lassie, Benji, or Rin Tin Tin -- there's just not enough warm fuzzies in the fur of this Belgian Malinois. While the pooch finds creative means to perform rescues, he's the only one performing here. The direction, the editing, and the writing all fall short of compelling.
The story feels like a screenwriting exercise in which three clichés were picked out of a hat: "service dog," "corrupt cop," and "save the farm." With those three phrases, you know exactly what's going to happen and how it's going to play out. Cornish and Patrick Muldoon affect their best Georgia lilt, but it's not believable. (Credit to Muldoon for not embracing the temptation to go full Rosco P. Coltrane, although his deputy brother is definitely written in the same vein as The Dukes of Hazzard's earnest Enos.) At first glance, it appears that the movie's female main characters are going to be strong and independent: Kate is the volunteer fire chief and runs a farm, and Alex sets out to find a way to save their farm from foreclosure. But all of their victories are achieved with the help of either a man or a dog. Considering that this family drama is from a production company run by two women, that's doggone disappointing.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.