American Gun

2006-12-31 11:06

Four interweaving stories explore the effects of guns on everyday Americans. Janet Huttenson (Marcia Gay Harden) is a single mother whose eldest son went on a Columbine style shooting spree at school, who is now rebuilding her life with her remaining child. Frank (Tony Goldwyn) was the first officer at the scene and is still trying to come to terms with his own reactions. On the other end of the scale is Princicpal Carter (Forest Whitaker) running a school in a violent neighbourhood rife with gun crime, and his attempts to protect his students and his own family, while Carl Wilk (Donald Sutherland) is the proprietor of a family run gun shop, reuniting with his granddaughter after many years.


American Gun is an intensely moving film which focuses on its characters’ lives rather than action or politics. The film works with several narrative threads which effectively give contrasting views on the various ways in which guns are part of life in America. It is emotionally weighty, and nearly all stories are steeped in the tragedy and the senseless waste of life that handguns offer so easily with the click of a trigger.

With a gritty tone devoid of any glamour, we start with the story of Janet Huttenson (excellently played by Marcia Gay Harden), giving a television interview more than a year after her eldest son shot several fellow students at his school before turning the gun on himself. This event has overshadowed her family ever since, from her own guilt, to her distance from her remaining son, to the anger of the neighbours whose children died in the assault. Following her through her low income work, her drinking, and her attempts lead a normal life in the face of overwhelming adversity, gives insight that the victims of gun crime are not only the ones in front of the barrel.

Similarly, Frank, an attending officer on the scene of that crime, is coping with his own guilt, and accusations that his lack of quick action could have cost lives. It is not all doom and gloom, as there are glimmers of hope every now and again, but for every step forward that characters make out of their predicament, it is often a case of two steps back. This is particularly true in the case of Frank, who confronts violent crime daily, facing brand new horrors as he struggles to lay the past to rest.

Forest Whitaker plays the hero of the piece, if one can call him that. He imbues the character of Principal Carter with the air of man constantly being pushed to his limits as he juggles between his family and his students. In an area where crime is rife, and violence is an easy solution, the drive to keep youngsters away from guns is an insurmountable challenge. The situation contrasts nicely with the affluent white suburb the Huttensons hail from, and how easy it is for youths to get guns.

There is far more to American Gun than these snippets. It is an emotionally complex and gripping film whose weighty subject is particularly pertinent to SA. Despite the varying situations, the moral always comes back to the fact that a lifetime’s worth of work can be undone in a single second, leaving multiple victims, many of whom will never recover. It is not all bleak, as the film provides various characters with flickers of light at the end of the tunnel, but they all have a very long way to go.

- Ivan Sadler
American Gun explores the often tragic consequences that hand guns wreak on society. It's intensely moving, but not easy to watch.

Adrian 2006/10/24 9:04 AM
Hoplophobia (go ahead, google it) "senseless waste of life that handguns offer so easily with the click of a trigger." Should rather read: "senseless waste of life that criminals offer so easily with the click of a trigger." Anyway, lets leave the ignorant alone and wait for them to be directly affected by crime. Bet they'll be wishing that they have a gun... Shee, one would swear GFSA write the review....
James 2006/10/24 9:33 AM
You're the ignorant one Adrian You're the kind of eye-for-an-eye, paranoid old South African who drags this country down. Why don't you say what you really mean by "criminals"? You mean "[hate speech deleted]s", you just don't use that word in public anymore. You mean "the evil black men". Do you realise that many gun owners are killed by their OWN guns? And that gun owners are MORE likely to be attacked? Or do you believe so strongly in your right to shoot people that you would welcome a return to the "justice" of the Wild West? Why don't you move to America where gun crazy right-wing nuts are welcome. We don't want you here.
Tim 2006/10/24 10:10 AM
Many sides to this story - this one is ANTI-GUN slanted Lets see a movie about "American Knives and Bottles" - since people also get killed by knives and bottles. JAMES makes the statement ... "Do you realise that many gun owners are killed by their OWN guns? And that gun owners are MORE likely to be attacked?" is utter garbish ... a respouting of the Anti-Gun brigade. They choose to IGNORE the stats ALL AROUND the world that the aremed repsonsible gun owner is more likely to avoid confrontation and if forced is more likely to defeat criminals. WHEN and/or IF this country has a viable Police / Judicial / Correctional system ... applying our laws.... and only then will normal law abiding citizens not be forced to spend time and money arming themselves to protect their families against the senseless violence so prevalent in our modern societies. For the record I am a ex-policeman .. so I have seen and lived through the repurcussions ALL sides of this debate! The irony is here in RSA and in the USA when the proverbial paw
Adrian 2006/10/24 10:19 AM
Save a criminal in SA, Move to the USA "Do you realise that many gun owners are killed by their OWN guns" How many? Do the research and tell us, I dare you! "And that gun owners are MORE likely to be attacked?" Really, well, if I was a criminal, the last thing I would want is my victim shooting back at me. Criminals prefer unarmed victims that roll over and say "Oh here, please take my car, here's my money, there my daughter on the back seat. Please just dont hurt me". It's easier for them..
Amanda 2006/10/24 11:27 AM
Good review Thanks for an interesting yet objective review. I'm not for or against gun control, but I am looking forward to seeing this movie.
crimefree 2006/10/24 11:29 AM
Paranoid hate filled rant Fews times in my life have I been exposed to the rantings of a fanatic. James has a mind clouded by propaganda and lets his hate be seen by the world. 1) Since the majority of SA are black, it stands to reaon the majority of criminals will also be black. More interesting is that in the USA blacks form only 12% of the population - buit commit 75% of the crime. It has nothing to do with racism only facts. James says "Do you realise that many gun owners are killed by their OWN guns?" I'll bet James does not know the figure but it is FEW indeed. James says "that gun owners are MORE likely to be attacked?" Which is absolute rubbish indeed. Both come from the hate promotion organisation GFSA. The study was the 1000 docket research of Altbeker. Atbecker himself says the study is unrepresentative of SA. It is a study of FAILED defences. James does not know that. James says "would welcome a return to the "justice" of the Wild West?" Oh! such ignorance is abismal but ty
Ant 2006/10/24 2:59 PM
civil society and government departments There needs to be a break down of the line of separation between civil society and the government; "[i]n most southern African countries there is a lack of transparency in the manner in which government manages the process of firearms control" (Lamb 2004:333). If there is to be any effective and efficient way to manage and control firearms in South Africa, one that does not undermine the plurality and equality of a radical democratic politics, government departments need to work with civil society to create a transparent and manageable system to tackle crime, without alienating legal firearm owners, and instead focussing on the real criminals. There should be tangible goals to build partnerships between civil society and government departments; the aim should be "to maximise the accuracy of the research findings, as well as contribute to building constructive relationships between civil society and government departments in the area of arms control" (Lamb 2004:331).
Ant 2006/10/24 3:07 PM
Laclau and Mouffe Laclau and Mouffe agree that one cannot predict the surfaces of emergence and the articulations of antagonisms a priori; because the Firearms Control Act (Act 60/2000) sets out to do precisely that, it has a totalizing effect on the social and invariably excludes certain spaces by operating in the best interests of certain privileged access points (through a negative conception of freedom) within the socio-political terrain. The only solution is to engender a multiplicity of political spaces, thereby politicizing spaces not previously thought of as political and preventing the concentration of power at one privileged access point; this is a precondition for every radical democratic expression of the political.
MARTIUS 2006/10/24 10:28 PM
Place in Perspective Good review, tradgedy always has losers. The problem with gun control is that reponsible, trained, firearm owners are prejudiced against. If guns are outlawed only outlaws WILL HAVE GUNS !! The outlaws guns will not be taken away and their resource to get illegal guns are amasing. Unfortunately anything can be used to kill or murder with, it is not the implement that kills but the person. The UK, have come to the startling shock that there exists a fierce knife culture and that many murders, and related crimes are commited with knifes, guns are illegal to own there so the criminal just uses another tool. Our major crimes and hi-jackings are commited with illegal firearms mosly the semi auto R4/5 and AK47 types and they are illegal to own in any case, so what does gun control help anyhow?? If there are no self protection firearms then the criminals will have free reighn. Do you know that the two murderers "Herris and Klebold" first choice of weapon at the Columbine school was two 9kg p
Brad 2006/10/24 11:14 PM
Guns & crime The constant focus on guns as the root cause all crime is equivalent to blaming pollution on the worlds natural oil reserves or the Nazi's blaming the Jews for all of Germany's post ww1 problems. Guns are merely tool like a hammer, a screw driver, a knife, a rope, a pair of hands and even a shoe lace (which has been the weapon of choice in several recent farm murders). Like any other tool they can be used for good and for evil, the point is that guns don't decide, people decide. To remove all legally owned firearms from society is not the solution to our problems one only has to look and learn from the experiences of countries which implemented gun bans (hand guns and certain types of rifles and shotguns) namely UK and Australia. Both expected dramatic reductions in crime, I imagine they were left quite speechless when the exact opposite happened! All they achieved was the disarmament of the law abiding population while criminals were given a green card to do as they please know
A Real American 2007/04/03 7:31 PM
American Liberal Propaganda is far deadlier... South Africans, don't believe this politicized garbage. You will do so at your own peril. The liberal Hollywood elite in America have for a long time EXPLOITED tragedies to suit their own agenda and they do not represent the average American, not even by a long shot. Their views are skewed, using a mastery of skills to evoke an emotionally - and politically - charged knee-jerk response to the so-called "gun culture". This game is kind of a way of life here by now. Gun control proponents routinely engage in pseudo-facts and pseudo-science to back their false contentions. They have been called out on it numerous times, yet they continue, mostly through film. Witness their blatant omission of statistics that in America, on a yearly basis, there are over 2 million incidents of firearms (mostly handguns) are used to defend life and property, of which a great number of lives are SAVED. And the vast majority end without a single shot fired. Witness the liberal (through Hollywood) promot
A Real American 2007/04/03 7:37 PM
American Liberal Propaganda... [CONTINUED from post below] ...promotion and outright profiting from a constant saturation of gratuitous graphic GUN violence on our airwaves; yet the liberal elite tell US that there is no legitimate need, right, or use for a firearm to protect life. It is a bloody old worn-out illusion that they are still trying to create. I have guns, have never pulled one on anybody, and have never seen it happen in my life of 37 years. But then again, I never lived in the ghettos of our big liberal-controlled cities. Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, even Wash., DC(!) where firearms are mostly banned from private possession by law-abiding citizens. The "gun culture" this film (and others) speaks of exists in their paranoid minds and in the depraved sectors of society of THEIR OWN MAKING. Outside of that, America is safe, America is polite...and America is doing just fine with guns. Best wishes to you all.
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