A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Viper Club is a serious drama about a single mother (Susan Sarandon) who's desperately trying to get her journalist son (Julian Morris) released from terrorist captivity. Its story has a lot in common with the real-life plight of kidnapped reporter James Foley, which has led to some controversy around the film. Expect to see the results of violence in the context of an ER (attack victims and shooting victims are seen), as well as a war-zone bombing that kills civilians -- including kids. There's also strong language ("f--k," "s--t," etc.) and a little smoking. Edie Falco, Matt Bomer, and Lola Kirke co-star.
What's the story?
In VIPER CLUB, single mother/ER nurse Helen (Susan Sarandon) has a secret: Her conflict-journalist son, Andy (Julian Morris), has been kidnapped by ISIS in Syria. Helen follows the FBI's directions, including not telling anyone about the situation, but months after Andy's kidnapping, her patience is running out. Facing an apparently insurmountable wall of inaction by the government, she becomes aware of a network of conflict journalists and friends who might be able to help her raise the requested ransom money -- something that's strictly illegal.
Is it any good?
This is a very well-made drama that seems deeply researched and moves viewers without heavy-handed manipulation. But while it stops short of exactly endorsing paying ransom to terrorists, it definitely celebrates Helen's efforts to do so. That's a complex issue, and one that isn't fully explored by an otherwise carefully considered film. The possible consequences of putting millions of dollars into the hands of terrorists to try to save one life aren't seriously addressed, beyond possible prosecution by the U.S. government. Viper Club also sparked controversy because its plot and details quite closely resemble the actual story of kidnapped conflict journalist James Foley, but filmmakers never secured Foley's family's permission to tell his story. The family seems to have made peace with the probably well-intentioned filmmakers, who reportedly took the family's advice about some changes. But those two points cast a shadow over the movie.
All of that said, Sarandon is excellent . She's effortlessly believable and shows remarkable restraint in a role that could have been sung to the rafters by a showier actress. The moments when Helen's strength slips and her devastating emotions beneath bubble up are powerful indeed. Director/co-writer Maryam Keshavarz (Circumstance) doesn't get operatic or manipulative, instead giving the viewer room. A sequence depicting the death of a child and the grief it causes is particularly affecting. The film's indie structure, as opposed to the clockwork plot movement of a studio widget, creates a feeling of unpredictability without resorting to plot twists or cinematic tricks. The serious questions raised by Helen's actions may be unaddressed, but at least the film -- and Sarandon's performance -- leave no doubt about her motivations.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Viper Club. How does it compare to what you might see in a more action-oriented war story? Do all types of media violence have the same impact?
The villains in the film are part of ISIS. One of the main characters is an ER doctor from Iran. Did you feel that the film was xenophobic in any way?
One character says that Andy, the kidnapped journalist, should never have been in Syria in the first place. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Why does the U.S. government refuse to negotiate with terrorists (at least publicly, for civilians)? Why did Helen face such resistance to trying to fund the ransom privately? It's easy to understand why she did what she did, but do you believe it was right or wrong?
There's some controversy around the film, given its similarity to James Foley's story and the lack of the Foley family's involvement in the movie. How do you feel about that?
- In theaters: October 26, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: January 23, 2019
- Cast: Susan Sarandon, Edie Falco, Matt Bomer, Julian Morris
- Director: Maryam Keshavarz
- Studios: Roadside Attractions, YouTube
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and some disturbing images
- Last updated: November 13, 2019
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