Fortunately, American Gun does not appear to be about the debate on owning guns. It’s a trap, and I doubt there will be much movement on either side of the issue. The film instead mostly deals with members of a community where three years earlier a Columbine-like school shooting occurred. The story slowly plods through the lives of several families, most notably the mother and brother of one of the deceased gunmen. This is where the title and its advertised premise confuse me. The story is more about the emotional toll any tragedy takes on a small town. Except for a paranoid obsession of a principal trying to keep the school free of guns, the weapons have less to do with the stories than one would expect. The most confusing factor in the film is the B story of a girl who works in her grandfather’s gun shop. This sidetrack takes place across the country and seems unrelated to the main plot. We never get a satisfying answer as to the connection. She has supposedly moved there from the West coast, and while it is never explained, one might guess she was at the school during the shooting. The film tries to stay away from the hit you over the head emotional plea to ditch all guns… that is, until a shocking and quite unnecessary convenience mart scene at the film’s end.
There are a ton of speaking parts in the film. It’s estimated at over 50 in the making of feature. The cast is quite good. I don’t only mean the obvious heavy hitters in Forest Whitaker and Donald Sutherland. Chris Warren, Jr. is marvelous as a kid who doesn’t really like guns but feels forced to carry because of his neighborhood. He considers walking around without a gun as being “naked”. Chris Marquette also has a strong role as the brother of one of the killers. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be forced to attend a school where your brother killed students and teachers three years prior.
American Gun is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The film takes on a documentary feel most of the time. The result is often a bit more grain than I would like. The cinematography also appears limited by the attempt to make it “real”. Colors are not great and tend to be more videotape in quality. The film is often too dark, and that brings out the compression artifacts that too frequently mar an otherwise clean print. Black levels are not good, and this seriously detracts from the film. Overall, it’s like watching an A&E special.
Again, the documentary atmosphere sought here limits a Dolby Digital 5.1 track that might as well have been 2.0. There isn’t any aggressive use of surrounds. Music cues are subtle and handled well as is the dialogue. No sub action to speak of, which is entirely appropriate. This is a talky film, so the sound merely needs to handle the dialogue without any distracting problems. The DVD handles that fine.
A very short making of feature tells us little we don’t already know. Clips of the cast and crew state the obvious and pretty much skirt any of the film’s likely controversial issues.
The mindset of the filmmakers is quite clear: “Guns Are Bad” as Mr. Macky might say. I give them credit for not being so obviously heavy handed. They do, however, work the crowd in more subtle and emotional levels. Images of students in body bags are more about emotional manipulation than any probative value they might provide. The material is controversial. Columbine still evokes energized emotions, as it should. Make no mistake. This is an anti-gun film. If your feelings are sensitized to the other camp, you will likely not want to see this one. The script goes beyond just “trying to understand”.