Guns and violence are
the threads that tie together dozens of disparate people (according to
the director, there are over 50 speaking parts) in the quietly devastating
American Gun. It is very reminiscent of the work of Robert Altman
(who, ironically created a thematically similar TV series called just Gun)
or Paul Haggis' Crash.
However, this movie weaves a spell of dread
and fear and near futility that is almost unbearable. I mean this as a
positive thing — it is the world that this movie inhabits that is difficult
to take, not the stories which are fascinatingly intense and often winningly
American Gun is not
so much about gun violence as it is about how people are affected by it.
All the characters mostly satellite around three stories — which are
intertwined and yet have no real connection other than weaponry.
The first, quietest story
stars Linda Cardellini (ER) as a college student from California who
is sent to go to school and live with her grandfather (Donald Sutherland) in
Virginia when she witnesses a friend being gang-raped. The grandfather
owns a gun store — and it is to the movie's credit that it doesn't take the
easy route and make Sutherland a clichéd gun nut. He is merely a
businessman and guns happen to be his wares, he is obviously very caring and
very careful with his customers. Nonetheless, his relationship is
still strained with his already on edge granddaughter who feels extremely
uncomfortable with the gun culture.
NYPD Blue) and son to an inner city
school where he takes a job as principal and finds his life and spirit
eroded by the constant barrage of violence in his school. He tries to
save his marriage at the same time as he tries to save a promising student
(Arlen Escarpeta of American Dreams) from descending into a violent
ghetto lifestyle.The second story involves a
former high school teacher (the always amazing Forest Whittaker — he really
should act more even if it cuts into his directing career) who moves his
wife (Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon of
Both of these stories are
powerful in their own way, but the last story is nearly devastating.
Oscar winning actress Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock) plays a woman whose
oldest son commits a Columbine-type murderous rampage at the local high
school before committing suicide. She is forced to deal with the guilt
of not knowing that her child could be capable of something like that at the
same time that she mourns for the death of her child. She also can't
keep a job because of the fall-out, her neighbors blame her and she can't
afford to move. Her youngest son (Chris Marquette of Joan of
Arcadia) is being tortured when he has to return to the school where his
brother is reviled, but he starts to find some solace when he meets a girl
(Nikki Reed of Thirteen) who sees him for who he is and not
for who his brother was — until her life too is touched by gun violence.
In the meantime, the
policeman (Tony Goldwyn) who was first on the scene of the high school
massacre is also trying to get his life back in order and regain his faith
in himself as an officer.
If it seems that I am
naming an awful lot of actors, this is for a reason. The acting in
American Gun is abnormally good — top to bottom the cast is nearly
flawless. Harden and Whittaker are stunning in their showy roles, but
more subtle characters like Sutherland, Goldwyn, Cardellini and the
fantastic younger actors Escapeta, Reed and Marquette are all up to the
challenge of keeping up. Much of the power of American Gun
stems from the fact that we believe fully in this world... and this is
greatly due to the strong character work.
American Gun does
not have any easy answers, in fact it really doesn't have any answers at
all. It just shows that in a world gone mad, sometimes the
best you can do is continue to go forward and try to be the best you can be.
Also don't stand up before
the credits to the film are completely finished. American Gun
saves one last distressing gut punch for the closing seconds — a short,
audio only exchange which is as shocking as it is horrifying. This
discussion sums up the cost of gun violence as well as anything ever could.