The Constitution enshrined the right to bear arms, but did not unfortunately codify a way of using them with anything resembling common sense. Aric Avelino’s debut is a multi-tentacled grasp at an insidious and peculiarly American problem.
The beating heart of the film is the story featuring Marcia Gay Harden as the mother of a boy who went on a Columbine-style murder spree. She comes apart in the aftermath as her younger son pulls away and a scornful town encroaches on her. Across town, Frank, the first officer on the scene that day, sees his iron-clad shield of denial chiseled away in the face of the all-seeing television eye.
The second story is set in an urban public school in Chicago — the kind of place for which the adjective “gritty” was invented. It is there that an overworked principal deals with a dysfunctional school system, dissatisfied wife, and young son who sees dead crack whores on the way to school.The clash between pragmatism, reason and common sense occurs when he confronts his star student for carrying a gun.
The third story — in many ways the odd man out — features a college student (Linda Cardellini) who has recently moved to Virginia and taken a job at her grandfather’s gun shop. After a violently traumatic episode, she too flirts with the idea of revenge: American style.
The film promises much but ends up delivering something less. It poses intellectually challenging questions that it resolves with emotion- laden solutions. Father and son reconnect, a hole is blown through a nascent love affair, and a confused girl gives her grandpa a hug. The repercussions of America’s unique history with firearms and the disproportionate burdens it places on different segments of society offers an endlessly rich tapestry of dramatic possibilities upon which to draw. A great, sprawling large work exists among those strands — American Gun only hints at that film.