Movie Review

CREDITS
RATING
PG-13

GENRE
Drama

CAST
Shia LaBeouf as Tyler; Dakota Johnson as Eleanor; Zack Gottsagen as Zak; John Hawkes as Duncan; Thomas Haden Church as Clint/The Salt Water Redneck/Bruce Dern as Carl; Jon Bernthal as Mark; Yelawolf as Ratboy; Jake Roberts as Sam

DIRECTOR
Tyler Nilson, Michael Schwartz

DISTRIBUTOR
Roadside Attractions

IN THEATERS
August 9, 2019

REVIEWER
Kristin Smith

Movie Review
Zak doesn’t need much from life: All he wants to do is meet his all-time favorite wrestler, The Saltwater Redneck, and become a wrestler himself. There’s only one problem: Zak has down syndrome and is being forced to live in a retirement home. And he’s just 22 years old.

But he’s determined to make his dreams come true. So one night, Zak breaks out of his room and steals away to find his hero. Except Zak has no resources, no friends and no way of getting to his destination. That is, until he sneaks aboard a shabby boat and meets Tyler.

A dejected, wanted vagabond, Tyler plans to cross state lines into Florida to work at an estuary and escape cutthroat fishermen out for his blood. Zak is the last distraction that Tyler needs, but Tyler just can’t leave the guy behind.

So together, this unlikely duo trek across the outer banks of North Carolina where they meet some unlikely friends and, eventually become the family they’ve always needed.

Positive Elements
The movie explores themes that focus on family, love and self-discovery.

Zak is a kind young man who wants friends that he can call family: His own abandoned him years before. In his search for human connection, he meets Tyler, a young man desperately seeking love and friendship himself. The two form a deep bond as Tyler defends Zak and teaches him how to believe in himself, and as Zak shows Tyler the unconditional love that the runaway craves. Tyler and Zak encourage one another, show kindness, offer love and comfort, and learn how to look past physical and emotional barriers.

Eleanor, Zak’s compassionate care provider, genuinely cares about Zak’s well-being. And when he escapes the retirement home, she goes after him. Throughout the film, she learns how to release control and discovers that Zak is capable of handling his own life. Similarly, Eleanor shows interest in Tyler’s life and well-being.

Spiritual Content
An elderly, blind stranger asks Tyler and Zak if they’re “God-fearing.” Eventually he talks to them about the difference between wolves and sheep, and he baptizes them in “the warm waters of forgiveness,” where “the wolves of your past be laid to rest.” This same man freely talks to anyone “about Jesus,” including Eleanor.

Tyler, for a great portion of the film, is unable to forgive himself. He blames himself for his brother’s death but learns about forgiveness through Zak and others. In the same way, Zak learns how to forgive himself and free himself from the confines of self-condemnation.

Tyler is told that his brother is looking down on him from heaven. A wrestler “believes in vampires.”

Sexual Content
Tyler flirts with Zak’s care provider, Eleanor, and eventually kisses her. An elderly man compliments Eleanor’s beauty. Eleanor wears a cleavage-baring top and swims in a black over-sized t-shirt and underwear.

Zak strips down to his underwear to fit through a tight space. He stays in his underwear throughout multiple scenes until he’s given clothes. Tyler occasionally goes shirtless and we see his bare rear from afar as he urinates outside.

Violent Content
Two fishermen attack Tyler multiple times. First, they punch, kick and threaten to bash his head in. When they find him again, they threaten him at gun point and, eventually, they nearly kill him by hitting him in the head with a crowbar (we see Tyler’s head bandaged and his face swollen).

Zak wants to be a wrestler, so he watches videos on how to wrestle and beat people up. When he’s finally able to wrestle in real life, he watches from the sidelines as men hit one another with chairs, their faces covered in blood. Zak himself is hit a few times and eventually throws his opponent out of the ring.

In a flashback, Tyler falls asleep drunk at the wheel with his brother next to him. (It’s insinuated that his brother is killed when the truck crashes.) A man is threatened with a knife. Tyler punches a middle-school boy in Zak’s defense. Tyler teaches Zak to shoot a rifle and Zak flies back from the recoil. We learn that a woman is widowed at a young age.

Crude or Profane Language
God’s name is misused seven times, occasionally paired with “d–n” and “d–mit,” and Jesus’ name is abused twice.

The f-word is heard twice and cut off three times. The s-word is used nearly 35 times. Other profanities include multiple utterances of “p-ssy,” “p-ssed,” “a–” “d–n,” “h—” and “b–ch.”

Zak is degradingly called “retarded” numerous times. A man performs a crude hand gesture.

Drug and Alcohol Content
Tyler and Zak drink a bottle of hard liquor on the beach and pass out. In a flashback, Tyler and his brother take shots and drive home drunk. A superior unnecessarily suggests that Zak be placed in a home for drug addicts and prostitutes. Men and women consume beer and hard liquor.

Other Negative Elements
We learn that Zak was verbally abused throughout his life, and as a result he believes that because of his down-syndrome it’s his own fault that his family abandoned him.

Zak vomits on himself and Tyler. Tyler sets fire to a man’s expensive equipment, costing the man thousands of dollars.

Conclusion
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Shia LaBeouf in a film and I found his performance, along with that of Zack Gottsagen and Dakota Johnson, to be outstanding.

This film says so much without over-using dialogue. Forgiveness, hope and love permeate scene after scene, and I was drawn into the real emotion and vulnerability of each character.

There is language and some violence here that families need to be aware of. But neither of those elements erased the tangible love and comradery between Tyler and Zak. Despite its content issues, the movie’s themes of redemption and friendship linger.

“I’d rather risk (death) than die a little bit every day,” he says.

And fans of motocross racing—or those who could become fans—will appreciate that sentiment and the racing action.

I should note, though, that Bennett’s War almost feels more like a motocross commercial than a full-fledged movie—what with its thimble-thin plot and loads of insider cameos and product placement opportunities. For me, that shill factor, along with the movie’s unnecessary language, undercut its inspirational takeaway a bit.

This movie, like motocross itself, gets muddy. But for fans of the sport, or those who like to see nice guys finish first for a change, you could do worse.

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