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Review: American Gun

American Gun is a wall-to-wall spectacle of grating hysterics and solemn symbolism.

American Gun
Photo: IFC Films

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.

Cast: Donald Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Marcia Gay Harden, Linda Cardellini, Tony Goldwyn, Chris Marquette, Nikki Reed, Arlen Escarpeta, Charles Duckworth, Garcelle Beauvais Director: Aric Avelino Screenwriter: Aric Avelino, Steven Bagatourian Distributor: IFC Films Running Time: 95 min Rating: R Year: 2005 Buy: Video

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