The World Made Straight

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The World Made Straight Movie Poster Image
Mature coming-of-age adaptation has violence, drugs.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 119 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Stresses the importance of knowing your history and your connection to your home/town/roots. Also promotes the idea of not being stuck in the past and taking charge of your life and your future.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Leonard cares about Travis (and encourages him to get his GED and look into going to college), but he's not an ideal role model given that he's also a pot dealer. Lori is a good influence on Travis, but she doesn't really know how to deal with his family troubles.

Violence

Characters die from being executed, shot, and being involved in an orchestrated car crash. A man beats up a young woman he's sleeping with (he considers her "his"). A young man's leg is seriously injured in a bear trap. Two men threaten violence on more than one occasion. Men carry and use guns, both long guns and hand guns. A Civil War atrocity plays a role in the story.

Sex

Passionate kisses between Travis and Lori. Scenes of Dena wearing barely any clothes while lying in bed. Carlton tells Leonard that Dena has been "rode hard but she's still pretty."

Language

Frequent cursing: "f--k" (both as an expletive and a crude euphemism for sex), "s--t," "a--hole," "bulls--t," "badass," "f--ked up," and insults like "coward" and "nothing."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink beer and hard liquor, smoke and deal marijuana, and pop pills. One woman admits she's a drug addict. Characters also smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The World Made Straight is an adaptation of Ron Rash's coming-of-age novel set in a 1970s Appalachian town. The movie explores serious, disturbing themes about domestic abuse, drug dealing and use, gun violence, and a historical atrocity during the Civil War. The language is frequently strong ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole"), the sexual references crude (a woman's promiscuity is mentioned several times), and the violence upsetting (a 13-year-old boy is killed at gunpoint, a woman is beaten up repeatedly, characters die), but mature older teens may be interested in the historical ties and the overall theme of an aimless young man figuring out how to navigate adulthood. 

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What's the story?

THE WORLD MADE STRAIGHT is based on award-winning author Ron Rash's coming-of-age novel about Travis Shelton (Jeremy Irvine), a 17-year-old high school dropout living in a small Appalachian mountain town in the 1970s. Travis, who can't keep a job, finds more than he bargained for when he stumbles upon his town's marijuana crop, harvested by local drug-dealing thug Carlton Toomey (Steve Earle) and his violent son, Hubert (Marcus Hester). At first Travis doesn't encounter them, so he grabs some cannabis and enlists his friend (Haley Joel Osment) to help him unload it to Leonard, aka "The Professor" (Noah Wyle), a disgraced former teacher turned petty moonshiner and drug dealer. But after Travis goes back to steal more marijuana, he gets stuck in a bear trap set by the Toomeys. Once he's out of the hospital, Travis' father throws him out of the house, and he ends up asking Leonard whether he can stay at his place. Leonard reluctantly agrees and starts mentoring Travis and teaching him about how his ancestors were a group of Southern Unionists who were massacred during the Civil War. As Travis reflects on his past, he also starts making strides to be a better man than his father ... if only the Toomeys would leave him and Leonard alone.

Is it any good?

This story could have made a great film, with its Cold Mountain-meets-Winter's Bone overtones, but the subplots, flashbacks, and historical themes don't translate smoothly to the screen. The connection to the Shelton Laurel Massacre (the horrible and unsanctioned killing of 13 neighboring Unionists by vengeful Confederates) is interesting, but the movie never really fleshes out why Travis becomes so obsessed with the atrocity. And Travis' relationship with Lori (Adelaide Clemens), a candy striper he meets while he's hospitalized, isn't substantively developed, so it seems more like a crush than love.

On the bright side, the performances are all great, particularly Irvine's -- who, despite being English, manages a Southern accent better than American-born Wyle. But since Leonard was a teacher, it's easy to believe that he'd have shed some of his Appalachian twang. And Wyle skillfully plays a man whose life as a teacher-father-husband was ruined but who finds new purpose in mentoring young Travis to learn about the past and connect to the future. Earle, foremost a musician, is quite memorable as the creepy, bearded local drug lord. There are enough compelling plot points to keep audiences interested, but the movie as a whole isn't particularly memorable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of coming-of-age tales. Why are stories about adolescents on the verge of adulthood so compelling? What are some of your favorite coming-of-age movies?

  • Travis' community is filled with smoking and drugs and the threat of violence. How are the movie's portrayals of drugs and violence different or similar to the way they show up in other movies? Was the drug use glamorized? Did it look like these characters led appealing lifestyles?

  • How does history play a role in this rural community and in the main characters' lives? Do you think it's realistic that people would still have an "us versus them" attitude more than a century after the Civil War?

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