Tuesday, December 9, 2008

American Gun

I watched American Gun after being impressed by Forest Whitaker in another ensemble drama called The Air I Breathe. Although American Gun held my interest, it was not nearly as good as the latter. Both stories follow several characters whose lives intersect at various points. However, the storyline is nearly as intricately interwoven in American Gun. Additionally, it appeared to me that the film provided different perspectives on the idea of gun ownership. In doing so, it seemed that the film took a position against guns without being particularly preachy about it. I would have panned this film if it had been overtly anti-gun. However, they managed to keep the film credible by keeping their sentiment within the confines of the script.

American Gun takes place nearly three years after a Columbine-type incident. The concept is conveyed through security camera footage showing children running from a classroom. Eventually we see a subject holding a rifle come into view of the camera. The movie follows the events surrounding this incident. The story shows the interaction of the shooter’s mother Janet (Marcia Gay Harden), his brother David (Chris Marquette) and the first Police Officer on-scene the day of the incident, Frank (Tony Goldwyn). The three characters interact late in the movie as the film tracks their individual involvement in events memorializing the shooting victims. David seems to struggle, especially after learning that he can no longer attend his private school, meaning he will have to attend the school where the shooting occurred. His reluctance becomes softened after he meets Tally (Nikki Reed) who doesn’t seem to judge him based on his relationship with the shooter. Tally ends up crossing paths with Frank late in the film into the rolling credits.

American Gun also follows two other stories that aren’t very closely woven into the greater story. One interaction involves a Chicago school Principal named Carter (Forest Whitaker) who crusades against school violence and desires to promote change in his community. However, the dangers of getting to school and back simply make the students more creative. One student, Reggie (Kevin Phillips) has to cover some rough territory getting back and forth from school. He hides an unloaded firearm in a secret spot on the school grounds when he gets to school. The principal catches him one day and has to consider suspension. Reggie does not get his gun back and chooses not to get another one. Reggie also moonlights at a gas station in a bad part of town. The crack heads are rampant and the opportunity for violence is abundant. That violence manifests itself during the night shift after Reggie opts to travel unarmed. Several gunshots into his attendant’s booth manage to miss him and he finishes his shift beneath the counter.

The final story involves a gun store owner, Carl Wilk (Donald Sutherland). Sutherland is another one of those actors that I love to watch. However, in this film they give him nothing to work with. The storyline involves the relationship between Wilk and his granddaughter Mary Ann (Linda Cardellini). It seems that Mary Ann doesn’t care too much for the rural lifestyle and isn’t really into guns. She doesn’t show much affection to her grandfather who she has stopped calling “papa.” The storyline was an unnecessary diversion that really didn’t add anything to the film. In fact, it was boring at times. I did not understand how the characters were intended to add anything to the theme of the film, finding the entire set of characters to be distracting.

The writing (written by Bagatourian and Aric Avalino) wasn’t entirely bad. There were elements to the film I liked. The characters were interesting and the writing created some excellent dramatic opportunities. They provided Harden and Marquette with some great dialogue and conflict which provided excellent value to the film. Yet the gun shop storyline failed to connect with the audience creating yawns if anything. The violence in the Chicago storyline was compelling and provided great opportunities for the writers to allow the characters to develop and interact, which they did adequately. What the writers give us amounts to two-thirds of excellent writing and one third of a script that amounts to crap. This film also fails in terms of being an examination of the American Gun Culture because it failed to deliver any positive messages. I was expecting the Gun Shop Owner to intervene in a rape or other violent crime and effectively become the hero…an opportunity to show the positive aspects of gun ownership. That was a pipe dream. Aside from that, the characters were interesting and the dialogue was sharp, especially the family exchanges. In essence, the writing was a mixed bag.

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