A cinematic cousin to Crash and other recent issue pics, director and co-writer Aric Avelino’s bleak debut tries to deconstruct gun violence in America through interwoven vignettes that span the nation’s geographical and cultural landscape. The strongest of these features Marcia Gay Harden as Janet, an Oregon mother still haunted by her late son’s Columbine-like rampage at his high school. Within moments of appearing onscreen—in a grainy television interview on the massacre’s third anniversary—Harden expertly communicates Janet’s fear and frustration. Worried for her surviving son’s future, she bears the brunt of her community’s almost cartoonish wrath and struggles with her own self-doubts as a mother. Other story lines include a Chicago principal (Whitaker) trying to keep guns out of his school, a police officer questioning his inaction on the day of the school shootings and an aimless arc with Donald Sutherland as a Virginia gun-shop owner who can’t connect with his granddaughter.
Sadly, the sheer number of threads in American Gun detracts from its potency, giving it the feel of a “very important” made-for-cable flick. Sluggish and overearnest, the film’s second half (complete with a predictable violent twist) fails to tie up the various plotlines. Avelino raises valid questions:How does one protect oneself in a gun-saturated society? Who is to blame when violence erupts? Are firearms merely a symptom of deeper societal ills? But his film brings us no closer to answers. (Now playing; Landmark Sunshine