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Semper Fi

Movie review by
Lynnette Nicholas, Common Sense Media
Semper Fi Movie Poster Image
Violent, salty, slow-moving action drama highlights loyalty.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 99 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Themes of teamwork, brotherhood, loyalty are clear in solidarity that's maintained by childhood friends (friends prove willing to risk everything, including their livelihood, to help one of their own).

Positive Role Models & Representations

The unyielding commitment that Callahan, Snowball, Milk, and Jaeger all have for one another shows loyalty, perseverance, teamwork. But characters also have flaws and shortcomings that affect their decision-making, and the characters' unwavering commitment to loyalty leads to some iffy actions. While becoming a father figure to his troubled younger brother wasn't easy, Callahan looks out for his younger brother no matter what, even to a fault.

Violence

Many disturbing images, some violence. War scenes with dismembered body parts; blood and gore as a result of wounds and explosions. Gun use: Men are shot during a war, a stand-off scene between two cops that ends with an arm being broken. Bathroom brawl in a bar includes a head injury that leads to a death. More fights and brawls.

Sex
Language

Extreme, constant swearing, especially "f--k." Other words include "s--t," "bulls--t," "d--k," and "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult drinking and cigarette smoking, and references to marijuana use. Drunken bar fight. A drunk adult recklessly walks into oncoming traffic. Several scenes of social/casual drinking, as well as emotional drinking in an attempt to soothe trauma.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Semper Fi is a mature but slow-paced action drama with themes of loyalty and being your "brother's keeper." Expect many intense scenes as well as emotionally heavy content. Violence and graphic images include war scenes, dismembered body parts, gun use, a bathroom brawl in a bar, and a few deaths. Language is also extremely salty, with constant use of "f--k" and other words. Characters drink and smoke cigarettes, there are references to pot use, and characters make poor decisions while drunk. Despite the movie's intense nature, characters are loyal and faithful (albeit sometimes to a fault); they clearly demonstrate teamwork and the ability to stick together through thick and thin. Ultimately, a troubled character has a breakthrough, and there's a silver lining in the end. Jai Courtney and Nate Wolff star.

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What's the story?

SEMPER FI centers on Cal (Jai Courtney), a police officer who supplements his income as a Marine Corps reservist. He likes to do things by the book, along with his close-knit group of childhood friends: Jaeger (Finn Wittrock), Snowball (Arturo Castro), and Milk (Beau Knapp). When Cal's hot-tempered, reckless younger half-brother, Oyster (Nate Wolff), gets an unfair prison sentence after a fateful bar brawl, Cal fights for Oyster -- and his personal code of ethics is sorely tested. In the end, the friends come to learn that teamwork coupled with loyalty can lead to great liberty for those you're willing to sacrifice for.

Is it any good?

The tone of this gritty drama about brotherhood and sacrifice can be bleak and depressing, but the story doesn't shy away from depicting the mental and physical impact of returning home after war. It also shows how being raised in a broken home can leave emotional scars and demonstrates the hard sacrifices that older siblings sometimes have to make in order for their younger siblings to survive. Semper Fi deals with real life, and many of the scenes are gritty. Plus, it serves as commentary on corrupt cops who abuse and take advantage of inmates while they're in the prison system.

That said, the movie's extreme profanity overshadows what could have been a more nuanced storyline. And the pacing is really slow at the beginning -- but once the real action kicks in, everything that happens after makes the ending that much more poignant. That and the natural chemistry between Courtney, Knapp, Whittrock, Castro, and Wolff help redeem Semper Fi. The level of loyalty that the characters demonstrate toward one another during the tough times in their lives is inspirational. Many of the scenes are predictable, but the ending is just right. And while it's a very male-driven film, co-star Leighton Meester (as Clara) adds some gentle delicateness to help balance out all the banter and testosterone.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the definition of "semper fidelis" (often abbreviated "semper fi"). What does it mean? Does it mean the same thing to Marines that it does to others? Does the definition change depending on the dynamic of a family? Of friendships?

  • What are the positive benefits of loyalty and faithfulness in a family and in friendships? Can you think of ways in which loyalty can have a negative impact? In what ways does Callahan show positive forms of loyalty and faithfulness to his brother? His friends? In what ways does he show negative forms of loyalty and faithfulness to his brother, if any? 

  • Should older siblings be responsible for their younger siblings? Is it fair for older siblings to carry the burdens of younger siblings and family members?

  • How did Semper Fi's violence impact you? How does it compare to what you've seen in straight-up action movies?

Movie details

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