American Gun

By  · Published on August 31st, 2006

Release Date: August 29, 2006

Everyone seems to want to make their movie that “speaks out” in some way against the government, or the establishment, or the President for that matter. The past few years have seen an onslaught of politically charged films about problems faced in our society. Most get caught up in the good versus evil, red state/blue state battle rather than dealing with the issue at hand; but a precious few have been able to rise about, giving audiences a frightening look at the reality that surrounds them in America today. American Gun is the latter – a film that deals with the issue, not the politics around the issue.

Gun, the virgin directorial effort by Aric Avelino, is a sharp film that tells four distinct yet troublingly similar stories of people whose lives have been affected by guns. There is the single mom (Marcia Gay Harden), struggling to make ends meet for her and her youngest son years after her elder son shot up his high school, killing many students and teachers; the high school principal (Forrest Whitaker) who gave up a comfortable Midwestern life and moves to the inner city with hopes of helping kids stay away from violence and making a life for themselves; and the first year college student (Linda Cardellini) who works with her grandfather (Donald Sutherland) in his gun shop as she adjusts to college life and her discomfort around firearms. Each of the story lines carries with it differences, but ultimately they all come around to exude the same message: that when a gun is fired, more than silence is shattered.

It takes a compelling look at how guns affect real people. Unlike your average Hollywood action-fest, it does not glorify the violence, but rather it is seeded in a much more unnerving, crushing reality. It also shows, through a very unbiased lens, how guns affect people from all walks of life. From the inner city to the suburbs to the campuses of our colleges, we all run across guns at some point in our lives, and this film is proof of that.

The film also includes a wonderful cast, who solidify this drama that is very much a character driven film. Forrest Whitaker ‘s performance is the standout, followed closely by the effortlessly great Marcia Gay Harden. Whitaker’s character comes of perfectly as being both deeply conflicted and noble. Harden’s performance is far more emotional, but is driven by a well written role and a phenomenal casting decision.

But of all the victories in this film, the greatest is that of it’s young director. Aric Avelino, unlike many young directors, does a great job of taking his hands off the wheel and allowing the performances to illuminate the story, rather than to force it. He allowed the actors to carry the film without getting in the way, which is something to be proud of. He should also be proud of the fact that the film is nor political, nor does it throw the issue into the faces of the audience. He was very tactful the way he sat back with the camera and allowed the audience to just observe as the lives of these people teeter on the edge of constant implosion. The film does not explore the difficulties of their lives and force upon us a single perspective, it just puts it all on display for us and allows us to make our own judgments.

But the director’s accomplishment, as clever as it may be, does make the film feel very anticlimactic. It builds very well and then just closes with a few loose ends, possibly due to a little too much being left on the cutting room floor. Either way American Gun is a film that I would recommend, as it does provide for a very eye opening experience.

The Upside: The film allows us to see the vast and unsettling issue of how guns can effect daily life through a very unbiased lens.

The Downside: The films standoffish approach to telling the story feels impersonal, and the it ends up being very anticlimactic.

On the Side: While shooting scenes with Forest Whitaker and ‘Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon’ in an LA neighborhood, the arrival of Britney Spears halted production. She was visiting a friend in the house next door, trailed by several shouting paparazzi photographers.

The DVD, like most IFC releases, really lacks any significant amount of extras. It does display the film well, but it includes only 1 featurette that is short lived and fairly uninformative.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)