So we've been told by the gun lobby, which shouldn't have much of a problem with American Gun, Aric Avelino's three-in-one look at the various ways firearms can intersect with our lives. We can assume that Avelino is a member of the anti-gun lobby from the movie's tagline: One Nation Under Fire. But in two of the three stories, guns seem as much the solution as the problem. Did Avelino's point get away from him? For better or worse, it's hard to tell.
In Ellisburgh, Ore., a mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and her teenage son (Chris Marquette) try to hold it together on the third anniversary of a Columbine-like shooting spree at the local high school. Making it especially difficult is the fact that one of the shooters was the mother's other son. Since then, she's lost two jobs and become the town pariah. Meanwhile, her remaining son seems as racked by guilt and grief as she is. Who will help them mourn? Haven't they lost a family member as well?
In Charlottesville, Va., a college freshman (Linda Cardellini) tries to hold it together while adjusting to a new life in a new town. Her grandfather (Donald Sutherland) happens to own a local gun shop, where she works part-time, so it's not like there's no family around, but they've grown apart as she's grown up. Then a date rape at a campus party changes everything. Maybe Gramps still knows a thing or two after all. And maybe those guns he's always playing with aren't just for show.
Finally, in Chicago, Ill., a high school principal (Forest Whitaker) tries to hold it together while the roof literally caves in. Metal detectors are a fact of life in this part of town, but without a gun for protection, you're "naked." The principal, nevertheless, has devoted his life to gun control, often at the expense of his family. And when a particularly promising student (Arlen Escarpeta) is caught hiding his piece just outside the school's front entrance, the punishment seems worse than the crime.
There are as many stories as there are guns in America (and that's a lot), but you have to wonder whether Avelino chose the right three. And you have to wonder whether he got everything out of them he could, whether they add up to more than the sum of their parts. The Virginia storyline seems underdeveloped, schematic. The Chicago storyline seems overdeveloped, formulaic. And the Oregon storyline seems too out of the ordinary, requiring a full-length movie of its own.
American Gun is sub-Crash, but the performances are topnotch. And at least Avelino's struggling with our right to bear arms. Most movies wallow in it.