"The War" (PG-13), a drama about a southern family, is probably too intense for many children.
Stephen Simmons (Kevin Costner) returns to his wife Lois (Mare Winningham) and his children, Stu (Eliljah Wood) and Lidia (Lexi Randall), after fighting in Vietnam and his subsequent hospitalization for mental stress. While he was away, the family lost their home and had to move to a welfare shack. Stephen's dream is to give his family their own home again. In the meantime, Stu, Lidia and their friends fashion their own special place, a tree-house. When it is threatened by neighborhood bullies, they decide to protect their turf which results in the second war of the film.
"The War" contains some moral messages. In the South of the 1960s, racial prejudice is accepted by most of society in the Simmons' town. In one scene, Lidia's teacher asks all the African-American students to sit in the rear of the class. Lidia senses the unfairness of it and stands up for her friend. Both Lidia and her friend are punished for speaking up, but are obviously right.
The Vietnamese war has terrible repercussions for the Simmons family. The family never regained the happiness and stability that it had before the war. There are flashback scenes of the war which include explosions, attacking soldiers, knifings and the death of Stephen's good friend. The film generally conveys an anti-war message, and Stephen tries to teach non-violence and compassion to his children.
The film takes the audience from the war of Vietnam to the war of the tree-house. There we see the good kids take on the bullies. Children and adolescents will be able to relate to that struggle. The actual fighting is more violent than necessary and leads to explosions and fire. That "war" also includes a dangerous dare scene where the children climb a high water tower and swim across the whirlpool filled reservoir. One child almost drowns. This is certainly not something that we want our kids to try.
This is not a feel-good movie. The father is hurt in a terrible accident and hospitalized. He is hooked up to tubes, wrapped in bloody bandages and ultimately dies. Stu feels guilty about his father's death. This is a common reaction of children to the loss of a parent. Stu's mother tells him that it is not his fault which seems to close the subject. In real life, that irrational sense of guilt may take much longer to resolve.
Two other scenes are problematic for children. In one, Lidia smokes a cigarette in front of her father, and he does not comment on it. In the other, Lidia's friend confesses to her class that her uncle paid her to pull down her pants, lie on his lap and be spanked.
Although "The War" tries to convey helpful moral messages, the violent scenes and sad tone make it unadvisable for children and questionable for adolescents.
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