Gun Free South Africa was responsible for hosting the event at which American Gun was premiered. As an organisation it represents a worthy and serious cause that needs to be championed. The goal of this ‘event’ screening was to promote awareness around gun use and the dangers associated with illegal firearms through a screening of the film.
American Gun examines the use and abuse of firearms in the USA and the impact this has had on individuals and groups. Inter-cutting three stories together it examines and focuses on the third year anniversary of a high school (Columbine style) shooting and the mother (Marcia Gay Harden) of one of the perpetrators/murderers; an inner city high school principal (Forest Whitaker) and his dealings with kids who carry guns for protection; and a story about a gun store owner (Donald Sutherland) and his grand daughter (Linda Cardellini) who is forced to work there while she studies away from home.
The film intersects all three stories throughout its running time but (and this may be a spoiler for some) these individual storylines never come together. The only connection each has with the next is that it is about firearms. I appreciate the fact that director Aric Avelino and writer Steven Bagatourian wanted to leave each storyline, and as a result the film, open ended; This decision may mirror the uneasiness of the real world gun situation rather well, but this structure is also the film’s major area of fault.
To be honest I would have much preferred to have seen this film if it had consisted of three separate short stories put together into a neat, sequential 90 minute package. It would have given us more time to appreciate each specific situation more intensely and extract a unique message from each. Instead, the inter-cutting – while it is at times entertaining – simply mashes everything together.
Of the three tales, the gun store owner’s is the weakest. I will go so far as to say that it could have been cut completely because it does little to drive the story and is the least involving. I wouldn’t be surprised that by securing Donald Sutherland to play the role the filmmakers were able to assure financing as well as generate some decent publicity, and that’s why it’s in the film. It is laboured and boring. The two remaining stories, however, are relatively entertaining and involving.
A further criticism I have with American Gun is in its use of filters and film grading; Avelino separates the world of his black inner city characters from his white suburban characters through the use of a grainy, blue grade.
This makes the – almost monochrome – world of the inner city seem more desperate and grittier than the world of the suburban characters, which is shown as brightly coloured. I don’t deny for a second that in the real world black individuals have been, and still are often, worse off – specifically from an economic standpoint – however, I don’t feel that a comparison can be drawn so easily between two groups of people when loss or fear is involved. No one has the right to say that their loss is greater or that they feel more than another person. The device is simply gimmicky and aesthetically trite and obvious.
American Gun is an interesting but fragmented watch that will irritate many with its open ended structure that, ultimately, should have been more interconnected. The lack of a conclusion – the film ends unexpectedly and abruptly – will also unnerve and possibly annoy most audience members.
Performances across the board – although especially from Marcia Gay Harden – are impressive but I found the whole experience – no matter how earnestly well-intentioned – to be sadly lacking.