Film review: Strong cast can't quite save 'American Gun'

Published: Friday, April 28 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

Linda Cardellini stars as Mary Ann and Donald Sutherland as Carl.

Sam Emerson, Ifc Films

Enlarge photo»

AMERICAN GUN — ** — Marcia Gay Harden, Forest Whitaker, Donald Sutherland; rated R (profanity, violence, vulgarity, rape, brief gore, brief drugs, sex).

"American Gun" arrives in theaters too late to really make a difference or say anything new on the subject of school shootings.

Though it was actually produced in 2004, this dramatic thriller comes three years after Gus Van Sant's "Elephant," which is seen by many as the definitive feature film inspired by the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy. Worse, this depressingly bleak film also has a few superficial similarities to "Crash," thanks to its multiple, seemingly interconnected story lines.

However, it does feature a fine cast. Marcia Gay Harden stars as Janet, a single mother whose oldest son was one of two students responsible for shooting up a local high school. Janet has had a hard time recovering from that. In fact, she's gone through several dead-end jobs as she tries to find a way to support herself and her younger son, David (Christopher Marquette).

Meanwhile, police officer Frank (Tony Goldwyn), who was first on the scene of the shootings, is still dealing with his feelings of guilt and helplessness.

And Carter (Forest Whitaker), a hard-working high school principal, is trying to keep guns out of his school, though students like Marcus (Chris Warren Jr.), who is trying to defend himself, make it difficult.

Then there's college student Mary Ann (Linda Cardellini), who is trying to resist taking a weapon from the gun shop run by her grandfather (Donald Sutherland).

The latter story line is the most interesting, and first-time filmmaker Aric Avelino and co-screenwriter Steven Bagatourian would have been better off scrapping the rest of the film and just concentrating on that story.

"American Gun" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity and crude sexual slang terms, a couple of strong scenes of violence (shootings, as well as some violence against women), a brief rape scene, brief gore, some brief drug content (references) and some brief sexual contact. Running time: 95 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com