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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that while this classic police thriller inspired a video game and numerous other PG-13 Hollywood cop-opera shoot-em-ups, it was intended as a very adult film, with frank swearing and occasional full-frontal nudity -- often in the context of a decadent community crawling with degeneracy and lawlessness. Violence includes bloody shootings, stabbings, and even schoolchildren threatened. For all the action, the movie doesn't exactly make police work appealing as a career path (especially the bitter last scene).
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What's the story?
In San Francisco a young psycho killer calling himself "Scorpio" demands that City Hall pay him in cash, or otherwise he will embarrass the wimpy mayor by murdering random citizens every day, including priests and children. The officer assigned to the case is the notorious "Dirty Harry" Callahan (Clint Eastwood), a cynical, widowed lawman expertly wielding a .357 Magnum and ace crimefighting instincts, whose previous cases left a string of his partners dead or hospitalized. Harry is not happy to be partnered up anew with a young rookie fresh out of college, but together the two cops play cat-and-mouse games with the sadistic Scorpio around a city filled with anti-police graffiti and unhelpful citizens. Late in the action Callahan finds his investigation crippled by a "justice" system that's concerned with protecting the rights of the loathsome Scorpio -- more so than with keeping his potential victims (or the police) safe.
Is it any good?
This is a hard-hitting reminder that 1960s social liberalism had gone too far, leaving society vulnerable to creeps and savages whom cops literally couldn't touch without warrants and red tape. Clint Eastwood had established himself as a laconic star in violent 1960s westerns, and a lot of this is his steely gunfighter persona well-transplanted to a modern city setting, with the accompanying taut narrative and some satisfying (but increasingly farfetched as the tale goes on) shootout-showdowns. A lot of the film's appeal -- less noticeable to the 21st century's young viewers, but still there -- also came from the political message. Harry, a hero cop, becomes an outlaw just for trying to do his job. Dirty Harry would be much imitated, and the theme of a law-and-order Clint Eastwood working for a system that doesn't deserve his heroics (and a more thoughtful villain who even talks about that irony) was done again in In the Line of Fire.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about a theme in the film, that the law -- in the post-1960s, post "civil rights" era -- protects lawbreakers, not victims, and that a dedicated policeman like Harry can't even do his job. Do you agree?
Is this movie still relevant? Do teens feel that modern police officers face similar challenges?
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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.