Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Tower Movie Poster Image
Doc uses animation to tell intense story of 1966 shooting.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 81 minutes

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

Positive messages

Even the most ordinary people can demonstrate extraordinary courage when necessary.

Positive role models & representations

"Courageous" is the word that best captures the students and law enforcement officers who were targets of the assault. In one way or another, they all displayed grace and kindness that day, from Claire Wilson James (who was pregnant at the time) to Rita Starpattern (who helped Claire keep calm while under fire) to Officer Ramiro Martinez and Allen Crum (who was deputized).


The whole film is about a day when a sniper shot 49 people. Animated sequences show people getting hit and sometimes dying. Gunshots are shown via stark drawings; they have a lot of impact but don't show much detail. The sound of bullets firing constantly may make some viewers feel like they're under assault, and yunger viewers are likely to find it overwhelming.


Brief kisses between animated characters.


Infrequent use of words including "s--t" and "damn." In one scene, a man makes an obscene gesture with his middle finger.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Some animated scenes include people smoking cigarettes, and one shows people drinking beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tower is an engrossing, moving documentary about one of the first mass shootings in U.S. history. It tells the story of the day in 1966 when a gunman shot 49 people at the University of Texas at Austin, leaving 16 dead. The film paints its vivid picture of the incident by mixing survivor interviews with original news footage and animated sequences that recreate the tragic day. There's a little bit of swearing (including "s--t" and "damn"), and a few moments that show people smoking cigarettes and/or drinking. The subject matter is intense, and the sound of bullets firing constantly makes you feel like you're under assault. But while the animated recreations of the shootings are shocking, they aren't graphic. Parents who watch with their teens will find it thought provoking.

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What's the story?

On a sweltering day in August 1966, a sniper atop a TOWER at the University of Texas at Austin shot 49 people. He ultimately left 16 dead in one of the first mass shootings in U.S. history. This documentary stitches together interviews with survivors -- including the first victim and the terrified cops who took the shooter down -- to explain what happened over 90 tragic minutes. Using original news footage and animated re-enactments, the film creates a "you are there feeling," emphasizing how terrible and terrifying "there" was.

Is it any good?

Sadly, there are many documentaries about mass shootings, but few are as searing and groundbreaking as this one. Tower takes recollections by witnesses and survivors of the 1966 tragedy -- the first of its kind in modern times, some would say -- and renders them very effectively. The audience is brought as close to that horrific day as possible via eyewitness stories (read by actors), news footage, and, unusually, rotoscope animation.

The technique somehow heightens the immediacy of each passing moment, teasing out the tension and the monumental sadness and terror of those painful, 90 minutes when a gunman seized the college's clock tower and used it as a perch from which to rain down mayhem and murder. The sound of bullets firing constantly is near-traumatizing, making you feel like you're under assault. Though there's not much gore, the animated re-creations -- mixed with the voice overs, video footage, and photos -- serve as a reminder of the toll that mass shootings exact, and the heroism of those who were there that day.

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