Last Men in Aleppo

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Last Men in Aleppo Movie Poster Image
Gripping docu shows real-life footage of ongoing Syrian war.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 84 minutes

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

Positive messages

Entire film is testimony to the horrors of warfare. A devastating look at innocents living under constant threat of death and destruction from faceless enemies. Depicts the carnage of a civilian population and an entire city used as pawns in political fight. Shows the ease with which slaughter can be accomplished using only bombs from the air at no risk to perpetrators.

Positive role models & representations

Portrays selfless men willing to give their lives to save others. They are courageous, resourceful, loyal, effective, and determined to remain in jeopardy to save others. In addition, they are devoted to family and community. They're fighting under extreme circumstances against the leader of their country and his allies, who will stop at nothing to secure their power and position.


Almost continuous real-life footage of Syrian city under siege. Civilian population (including residential areas, hospitals, rescue centers) is relentlessly bombed by aircraft. Bodies of the dead and severely injured (including infants and children) are seen both up close and from a distance; no attempt is made to shield audience from the reality or lessen impact. Body parts are recovered in multiple scenes. Civilians are seen running from attacks; some bombs land around them, others hit their mark. Heroic rescuers are killed on camera.


A few spoken curses: "ass," "balls." Subtitled profanities are blurred or excised; however, the intent is clear.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Last Men in Aleppo is an unflinching documentary that depicts the slaughter of the Syrian city's population and the decimation of its infrastructure (including hospitals, rescue centers, residential neighborhoods) as it happens at the hands of a formidable enemy over a one-year period, beginning in September 2015.  Audiences simply hear/read words (English subtitles) of the men themselves as the events unfold. Both the civilians and the filmmakers are under fire in multiple sequences. From the vantage point of members of the White Helmets, a volunteer organization of Syrian civilians, and staying close to two of its active participants, cameras follow the men into the devastated areas as soon after the bombings as possible. What they encounter is nothing short of hideous and heartrending. The filmmakers make no effort to hide the horrible impact of the war, including struggles to excavate the victims, the bodies (including infants and children), and body parts. Earlier surviving victims with ghastly injuries, including children, appear as well. Though hard to watch and even harder to forget, this is important viewing that provides a human context to an ongoing international travesty. Winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema 2017, and many other festival awards, this film is recommended for engaged citizens and mature teens who aren't fully aware of the fact that such atrocities can occur, even today. 

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What's the story?

A Syrian director and crew follows The White Helmets for one year in LAST MEN IN ALEPPO. The group, funded by international humanitarian efforts, is a volunteer team of people who follow the bombings into the rubble to carry out as many rescues and save as many lives as they can. There's no context in this documentary -- no narration, no political statements -- just the act of heroes living and working in a city relentlessly besieged. Two of the rescuers are featured throughout. Khaled, a family man and one of the leaders of the rescue operation, is forced to balance the atrocities he witnesses with his commitment to his young daughters. Mahmoud worries about his brother, and in one particularly moving scene meets a little boy whose life he saved earlier in the conflict. Audiences learn only through the conversation of the men that the attacks are being perpetrated by the leader of Syria, Bashar Assad, and the Russian air force who supports him. Sequences of devastation are intercut with moments of quiet, in which the men attempt to normalize lives that have been engulfed by fear and death. 

Is it any good?

There's so much about this documentary that merits attention; what is horrifying and sad is punctuated only by the heroism of its subjects and of the filmmakers themselves. Under the dubious auspices of "fighting terrorists," a civilian population and its city's infrastructure is besieged. The courage and commitment of both the organization and Director Firas Fayyad and his crew is astonishing. Moments of uplift (e.g., rescuers shedding their bloody clothes to attend a wedding of a colleague; taking an entire community of kids to a playground during a short-lived "cease-fire") are quickly savaged by further attacks (e.g., when the playground is suddenly under fire). The fact that such events are possible in this decade is unfathomable. To say that it's hard to watch is an understatement. But it's also true that to ignore such a film as Last Men in Aleppo is to turn our backs on an ongoing tragedy of inhuman proportions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why documentary films like Last Men in Aleppo are important. To what lengths were the filmmakers willing to go to record these events? Why?

  • Were you familiar with Aleppo before you saw this documentary? Had you heard of or read about displaced Syrian refugees (more than 13 million to date)? How did the movie impact what you thought you knew about the crisis?  If you were moved by what you saw, how might you take action? Would you recommend this film to others? Why?

  • Talk about the character of the men portrayed. What qualities did they exhibit that made them heroic? How did you feel about Khaled and Mahmoud and their colleagues? How does seeing real-life heroes in action differ from watching the exploits of fictional heroes? 

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