James Morrison has the role of a high school principle.
American Gun is a point blank look at the effect of guns on American society. It doesn't offer any overt or easy solutions to the problem but it does open a door to discussing gun violence and its effects. The film does it in a way that is engaging, sometime a little confusing, but by avoiding taking a morally superior tone and showing several sides to the issue, all of which are murkily interconnected and happen daily in our lives.
The inciting incident, a Columbine type shooting is three years distant at the start of the film. Two young men walked into a school and opened fire leaving former classmates dead and wounded. Both were killed and no one understands why they did it. The incident rocked the community and three years later, the seeds of that tragedy are still affecting the people involved both directly and indirectly. There are four main seeds around which the storylines focus.
Forest Whitaker is a high school principle in the school where the shooting occurred. He's nearing burnout and has had the idealistic goals beaten out of him in the day to day struggle of trying to reach kids in an area where they carry guns to school but they've needed them for protection at their all night jobs. The school has guards and metal detectors at the front door in an attempt to keep the guns at bay. So desperate to reach out to his students, his own son barely sees him.
He catches one student hiding a gun in a window well before school and threatens him with expulsion. The student manages to talk his way out of the expulsion but pleads to get his gun back - something Whitaker won't do but tries to instill in him the belief that he doesn't have to live in fear, that instead of carrying a gun, he should work on trying to get out of the neighborhood where he needs one.
That night as the student works, a man pulls a gun on him and he spends the night on the floor of his little gated booth trying to do his homework while at the same time not getting shot.
Marcia Gay Harden is the mother of one of the school shooters who struggles to raise a second son in a town where they are pariahs. She can't keep a decent job because of her son's actions and she works long hours for low pay just to keep the family going. Desperate for money, she sells an interview to a local TV station doing an exploitive expose on the anniversary of the shootings. The interview leads to her son's removal from his private school. She pleads with the principle (James Morrison) to keep her son in the private school, but is sent on her way. Her son is sent back to the school where his brother committed the crime. She loves her sons, both of them and tries to understand the unthinkable, how a son she loved and adored could kill people She is trying to move on and deal with a trauma where she is as much as victim of her sons crimes as the other members of the community, but on the other hand, questions herself on what she could have done to prevent it? Was there something she missed as a parent? Her other son hates what his brother did, but is looked at like he could do it too?
The third storyline takes place away from the town of the original shootings and centers around Linda Cardellini and Donald Sutherland. Linda is a university student who was shot at the school and is now working in her grandfather's gun shop as has all of her family while away at school.
Sutherland's character loves guns; he's been running the business for years and while he's worried about his granddaughter, is completely disconnected from her experience. He has a deep respect for guns and family and is a throwback to the time before the Saturday Night special was in school lockers across the country, a connection to the history of the gun lifestyle in the US.
Tony Goldwyn is town cop, one of the ones who first responded to the school shooting. He had to wait helplessly outside through the worst of the carnage and then deal with the survivors and the parents. Everyone has an opinion on what he should have done and he himself still questions what he did, if something could have been done differently, and why couldn't he have saved people. He's a man whose chosen career is to help people, yet at the time he was most needed, he was helpless. In his brief encounter with Harden, he briefly glimpses a woman under a similar cloud as he is about the incident. Both are trying to face their inner turmoil alone and keep a brave face toward the world and it's costing them, something they both come to realize.
How do we deal with gun violence in society? The movie doesn't have an answer, but the message that we can't turn our backs on the issue and say it doesn't affect us comes through loud and clear. Its affects reach deep into society at levels we can't always see but we do feel and more so every day.
This is a movie that should be brought into classrooms across North America and discussed by students, teachers and more importantly the parents. It's an issue that can't be decided by a single group or by passing laws. The OK Corral is happening on the street corners of North American cities - what do we do about it?
A bit of Trivia: While shooting scenes 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.
This review and captured pictures is provided solely as a record of James Morrison's work as an actor, and does not intend or imply any infringement of any copyrights or trademark.