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American Gun (R)

Release Date: March 22nd, 2006 (Landmark Sunshine Cinemas) by IFC Films.
The Cast: Donald Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Marcia Gay Harden, Linda Cardellini, Tony Goldwyn, Chris Marquette, Nikki Reed, Arlen Escarpeta.
Directed by Aric Avelino.

BASIC PREMISE: Guns affect the lives of characters in four different stories.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Despite a few strong performances from its ensemble cast, American Gun feels too disjointed. Surprisingly, for a film with the word “gun” in its title, there’s very violence. In Los Angeles, Janet (Harden) lost one of her sons when he shot himself in Columbine-like massacre at his school. She tries to take control of her life again and bond with her surviving son David (Marquette). David becomes friends with Tally (Reed), a friendly girl from school who cares about him. Meanwhile, police officer Frank (Goldwyn), who was at the scene of the massacre, copes with his guilt when footage with him at the massacre goes public. In an unconnected story in Virginia, Maryanne (Cardellini) gradually bonds with her grandfather (Sutherland) while working in his gun store. After witnessing her friend almost get raped at a party, she decided to finally learn how to shoot a gun. In Chicago, Carter (Whitaker), an inner-city high school principal, deals with punishing a student (Escaparta) for bringing a weapon with him to school. At the same time, over-worked Carter has problems communicating with his wife and teenage son. Director Aric Avelino wisely distinguishes the different stories through different color tones just like in Traffic , a film which also jumped from storyline to storyline. Maryanne’s relationship with her grandfather is the weakest storyline here and could have been either elaborated on or eliminated from the screenplay. The other storylines are compelling and very well-acted—especially by Marcia Gay Harden and Forest Whitaker. American Gun would have been much more engaging and more focused if screenwriters Aric Avelino and Steven Bagatourian were to choose only one of the stories and expand on them or, perhaps, to find an inventive way to connect them. The unconventional third act does have some degree of closure for each character, but it’s not powerful enough and nor you care about any of the characters to remember them after the credits roll.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: The use and proliferation of guns in America is certainly a hot topic that’s worth debating. Does every citizen deserve the right to carry and use gun to protect himself or herself? The simple answer is “yes”, but only within ethical and moral boundaries. Obviously, a child shouldn’t carry a gun nor should a teenager. American Gun shows the complex emotional consequences of gun violence. However, other than suggesting that violence is hard to stop, there’s very little insight into what truly causes violent inclinations in the first place—what are its roots? Also, the cop-out ending doesn’t provide much when it comes to solutions to the problem with guns.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: Disjointed storylines without much character development and very little insight.


IN A NUTSHELL: Strong performances, but weak storylines which lack much-needed emotional power and insight.


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