A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Domestic Disturbance is a 2001 thriller about a stepfather who is not the good citizen he appears to be. This stepfather is both physically and verbally abusive to his new stepson. This movie also addresses issues of alcoholism and divorce; the 12-year-old stepson is accused by everyone in the town of being a compulsive liar who wants attention in the aftermath of his parents' divorce. Characters are stabbed to death, electrocuted, and attacked with baseball bats. There is frequent profanity, including "f--k." One of the characters sleeps with a prostitute.
What's the story?
Frank Morrison (John Travolta) is a recovering alcoholic and recently divorced father who works as a shipbuilder in a small town in Maryland. His 12-year-old son Danny, hurt by the divorce of his parents, has begun getting into trouble and acting out, especially when his mother marries a man named Rick Barnes (Vince Vaughn), a recent arrival in town who comes across as a wealthy entrepreneur. But when Danny inadvertently witnesses Rick murder a man from his past (Steve Buscemi), he tries to convince everyone of the truth, but no one believes him. Meanwhile, as Rick begins making threats to Danny, Frank begins to suspect that there's a dark side to Rick, and begins to uncover the truth as he does his best to protect his son.
Is it any good?
It's hard to tell if John Travolta is trying to play his role as more of a laid-back recovering alcoholic or if his performance is simply flat and uninspired. In some scenes, he comes across as almost bored. Still, there's enough action and twists to make this a semi-enjoyable tale of suspense and mystery.
While the suspense in this thriller is heightened by Vince Vaughn's undercurrents of violence and general creepiness as the murderous stepfather with a dark past, what prevents DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE from being anything better than average are the storyline's cliches. There is a police detective who doesn't believe the story of murder and deceit coming out of the mouth of a tween boy. There is a tween boy who has cried wolf one too many times, and now that the proverbial wolf is here, no one believes him. There is a wicked stepfather. It all follows a predictable-enough formula, even if there are occasional unexpected moments.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how issues of alcoholism and divorce are addressed. Were these topics handled realistically? Why or why not?
What similarities and differences do you see between this film and other suspenseful movies?
How was violence used in this film? Was it necessary for the story or did it seem gratuitous?
- In theaters: November 2, 2001
- On DVD or streaming: April 16, 2002
- Cast: John Travolta, Vince Vaughn, Steve Buscemi
- Director: Harold Becker
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Violence, brief sexuality, and language.
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
Our editors recommend
For kids who love thrills
Top advice and articles
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.
Streaming options powered by JustWatch