A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Shock and Awe is a fact-based drama directed by Rob Reiner about the two investigative reporters (Woody Harrelson and James Marsden) who got to the bottom of the story behind the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003. It often refers to political figures and events of that time and therefore might be tough for younger viewers -- less due to iffy content than to all the details that will require explanation. But if you choose to dig in to that context, you could be well rewarded. While there's no violence or nudity, there is some social drinking, one mild sexual situation, and a fair amount of adult language, including "f--k," "s--t," and more.
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What's the story?
Set in the early 2000s, SHOCK AND AWE follows real-life Knight Ridder reporters Jonathan Landay (Woody Harrelson) and Warren Strobel (James Marsden) and their editor, John Walcott (director Rob Reiner), as they hunt for the truth beneath the political spin as the United States gears up to invade Iraq after the events of Sept. 11. Joined by Joe Galloway (Tommy Lee Jones), a journalistic legend coming out of retirement, they challenge the administration's assertions that Iraq harbors weapons of mass destruction.
Is it any good?
This drama is a love letter to investigative journalism, and it's earnest (perhaps too much so?) in conveying an important lesson from recent history. Of course, it's sort of playing with a stacked deck: The characters speak in fully formed thoughts informed by what is now history. That can give off a whiff of preachiness, especially during segments of rather thick exposition. And while the film sideswipes some of the administration statements and some of the reporting that turned out to be false, it doesn't collide with them head-on, so the dramatic conflict is limited. But Harrelson is a dependable screen presence, and it's a pleasure to see Marsden in a mature, serious role. The movie's home life/budding romance scenes are fine, due largely to the skill of actresses Milla Jovovich and Jessica Biel, but they feel like distractions from the massive, unfolding central story.
Reiner has made many fine films, including classics like The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, and Misery. Here, alas, he directs with a heavy hand, choosing portentous music and cinematography (how many newsrooms are lit that dramatically?). The script by Joey Hartstone (TV's The Good Fight) strains to cover the expanse required in only 90 minutes. It is intelligent work, though, with nuggets that sound pulled from the reporters' notebooks, such as, "We need to blow something up. Not enough targets in Afghanistan." And, to its credit, the film tries for non-partisanship: While it's a Republican administration that's caught lying, the movie doesn't spare the Democrats who voted for invasion or the sometimes-called-liberal news outlets, including the New York Times, that didn't investigate rigorously. The film tries hard to make the connection between these political decisions and the impact on people's lives. But despite its good intentions and intelligence, Shock and Awe doesn't deliver the impact promised by its name.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the press is typically portrayed in movies. Is this how you imagine journalists are in real life? Do you think what the reporters did in Shock and Awe was right or wrong? Why?
Are there examples of what you'd consider "fake news" in this movie? How can kids and teens learn news and media literacy?
Today, some of those in power have called journalists "enemies of the people." But Thomas Jefferson once said, "The only security of all is in a free press." Who's right?
Does the film seem to lean one way or the other politically? Do the characters?
- In theaters: July 13, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: August 14, 2018
- Cast: Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, Rob Reiner, Tommy Lee Jones
- Director: Rob Reiner
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language including some sexual references
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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