Columbine was only seven years ago and already I'm sick to death of movies inspired by it. I don't mean to be insensitive, but seriously. How many movies can be made about American gun culture? When mixed with hormonal and impressionable kids, nothing good can happen, and tragedies occur. This we understand.
The good news is that Aric Avelino has at least one brilliant spin on the tale in the ensemble piece American Gun, which tracks a handful of characters in the wake of a Columbinian tragedy. The brilliance? Making one of the main characters the single mother of the (now deceased) shooter. Now trying to cope in the same community, and trying to raise another son with less violent tendencies, she doesn't have the cash to leave and, as expected, finds himself surrounded by hate. Played by Marcia Gay Harden, the addled mother is trying to figure out how her son could have done such a thing, while facing the exact same question from the people that surround her. It's the highlight of the film, a searing portrait of humanity and society at its worst.
The rest of the movie doesn't hold up as well, unfortunately. The gaggle of stories are largely unconnected and largely forgettable, including the inner-city high school principal (Forest Whitaker) trying to make his school safe, a gun dealer (Donald Sutherland) who isn't the monster we expect, and of course a whole bunch of students wrestling with more violence, guns under control or not. The performances are all on target and earnest, which is completely in keeping with a message movie like this. Nobody wants any more kids to get shot, so everyone gives it their all on camera. Nothing wrong with that.
It's too bad then that Steven Bagatourian's script takes too many shortcuts and easy-outs in exploring the issue. There's the black family wrestling with gang violence, a date rape scenario, and way too many scenes of highschool cliques. Much of the film comes off as hackneyed and dull, even though it looks good on screen and the production values are perfect, rare for a first-timer.
Much of this can be overlooked for Harden's performance as well as Chris Marquette, who plays her seriously messed up son. Together they prove that it's the small things that can make a movie worth watching, even if it's a road we've been down too many times already.
DVD extras include a making-of featurette.
Who wants to go do some archery after school?