One spends most of American Gun waiting for the inevitable trigger-happy calamity that’ll impart a powerful moral lesson about the U.S.’s handgun-saturated culture. Will it involve the discontented University of Virginia student (Linda Cardellini) and the grandfather (Donald Sutherland) at whose gun shop she works? The stressed-out Chicago principal (Forest Whitaker) whose job managing high school delinquents is straining his relationship with his wife (Garcelle Beauvais) and young son? The promising African-American student (Arlen Escarpeta) who feels it necessary to carry a piece for protection from his run-down neighborhood’s thugs? Or the anguished mother (Marcia Gay Harden) struggling to make a living for herself and her son (Chris Marquette) three years after her older boy committed a Columbine-like massacre? The answer, regrettably, is that it doesn’t matter, as Aric Avelino’s awfully earnest attempt at Crash-like commentary—which even includes a distraught cop (Tony Goldwyn) wrestling with his guilt—only superficially purports to say something profound about America’s fixation on firearms. Each of its stories constructed around overwrought adult-kid dynamics, the film’s panoply of disparate, distressed characters routinely cope with the omnipresence of pistols, which Avelino depicts merely as a lethal symptom of larger, underlying familial and societal communication breakdowns. As a result, everyone finds it either painfully difficult to express their roiling grief and anger (that would be Cardellini, Goldwyn, and Whitaker) or more than happy to scream, cry and generally freak out about their miserable lots in life (that would be Marquette and Harden’s demonic neighbors, whose nastiness is barely one-dimensional). Forced to contend with Avelino’s directorial predilection for nonsensically askew compositions and jump cuts, Harden and Whitaker vainly try their best to bring some modulated emotional authenticity to thoroughly contrived, outburst-heavy roles. However, for all of American Gun’s grating hysterics and solemn symbolism (the latter epitomized by a Macbeth-ian speech about a ceiling panel stain—it won’t go away even when you put a new panel over it!—that’s breathtakingly turgid), almost nothing meaningful is discussed and even less ultimately happens. And when those climactic gunshots finally ring out with didactic irony, the real tragedy is that almost everyone in this multi-strand tale of weapon-amplified woe avoids getting plugged full of holes.
Given the wild color palette, it’s incredible the image keeps its cool throughout: though blacks are a little inky and edge haloes are visible in spots, skin tones are striking, as is color saturation. The audio, especially when a bullet attempts to connect human dots, is deafening.
A promotional making-of featurette from IFC Entertainment that mixes footage from the film with Syriana-serious interviews from the cast of the film. Also included here are trailers for Killshot, Pulse, Clerks 2, Lucky Number Slevin, and C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America.
From its shrill pitch to its insidious delivery, American Gun is the little sibling of Paul Haggis’s Crash. Its only charm is that it’s 20 minutes shorter.