A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this film is technically a comedy, it's a dark one, and there's plenty of violence -- including gory fights and assassinations and people (including unarmed civilians) dying in bloody gunfire. Swear words also fly like shrapnel. Former tween star Hilary Duff plays a singer who sells her sexed-up image to the masses, dressing, singing and behaving (in her own words) like a "whore." The film satirizes giant companies that, with Washington D.C. firmly in their pockets, launch and manage an Iraq-style war purely for profit, with a mindless media repeating their lies about "freedom" and making the world a safer place. Soldiers (who are for-hire militia members, rather than U.S. Army troops) are portrayed as violent and drugged-up.
What's the story?
WAR, INC. takes place in a high-tech near-future where ruthless corporations basically control everything, including wars and assassinations of heads of state. A fictional Mideast nation called Turaqistan has been invaded and defeated, evidently at the behest of the United States -- but the whole military op is really being overseen by greedy defense contractor Tamerlane, which makes and sells everything from rockets to metal artificial legs for the invasion's unfortunate civilian victims. Always trying to squeeze out extra bucks, Tamerlane plasters tanks with advertisements and hires disillusioned ex-CIA hit man Brand Hauser (John Cusack) to oversee a fancy trade expo in the capital city. His real mission? Kill a visiting VIP from a neighboring country whose policies threaten oil earnings. Between dealing with hostile, attractive investigating reporter Natalie (Marisa Tomei) and lewd teen-pop sex bomb Yonica (Hilary Duff) -- whose wedding is the centerpiece of the expo -- Hauser starts to have serious misgivings.
Is it any good?
With a script (and musical numbers!) co-written by Cusack, War, Inc. is a stingingly angry, high-speed satire that expends enough ammo for two and a half movies. Much of it is shock-and-awe bombardment modeled on the motivations (as the filmmakers envision them, anyway) of the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq -- depicted here as the actions of money-grubbing plutocrats using a mindless, docile media to spout empty slogans about "freedom" and "war on terror" while murdering, plundering, and turning a distant Arab nation into a tacky American-style outpost of burger joints and strip malls. Then there's the romance with Natalie and, on top of that, a slam against vulgar celebrity culture via the lustful, R-rated performance by erstwhile family favorite Duff. The idea is that the grotesque war and tabloid-trashy teen idols like Britney, Lindsay, and K-Fed are all exploited products of the same depraved commercialized system.
It's a wonder the screed holds together as well as it does -- though by the finale the stress shows. Even adult viewers may have trouble following along, and young viewers lured by the Duff factor are likely to be flat-out bewildered, though the MAD Magazine flavor of the satire might have some appeal. If you enjoyed Cusack's previous role as a pro assassin with hang ups in the culty dark comedy Grosse Pointe Blank and you protested President Bush, then here's catharsis for you.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's politics. Do you think the filmmakers have a specific political agenda? What's your opinion on the topics they satirize in this movie? Whether you agree or disagree, you can at least discuss the surreal level of the satire. It's the same type of exaggeration found in classic books that a lot of people today mistake for mere fairy tales -- including Gulliver's Travels, The Wizard of Oz, and The Adventures of Pinocchio. What larger messages were those stories conveying within their fantasy adventures?
- In theaters: May 23, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: October 14, 2008
- Cast: Hilary Duff, John Cusack, Marisa Tomei
- Director: Joshua Seftel
- Studio: Millennium Films
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, language and brief sexual material.
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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