American Son
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American Son

Of all the themes that can be used as motivation for a movie one with the most powerful potential is war. Armed conflict between people may start disagreements between nations for any number of go-political or economic causes but ultimately it is the young soldiers that fight and die far away from home on some blood soaked battle field. The way a film about war is constructed and resented to the public goes a long way to gauging the way the general population regards the particular raging at the moment. In the thirties and forties war films were positive full of exploits of courage and self sacrifice. Brave men were shown charging into battle for God, country and honor. It was generally understood that defeating the Axis in World War Two was not only a moral imperative but necessary for our survival as a society. With Vietnam not only did war change in methodology there was a complete paradigm in the public perception of the war and the government. In WWII open decent against the war was tantamount to high treason. In the Vietnam era anti-war protests were growing stronger and very much open and in the news. This gave rise to a new direction in film making; the anti war film. They would rub the gamut ranging from satiric such as ‘M*A*S*H’ to brutally dramatic as with the poignant ‘Jonny Got his Gun’. Once again the United States is embroiled in a conflict of foreign soil. Many Americans are bitterly divided over the purpose, nature and even legality of the action in Iraq. Cinema is at its best when it is employed as a mirror reflecting the attitude and controversy of its time. ‘American Son’ is an independent film that is representative of the current war in Iraq. While it has its flaws on both sides of the camera and fails to reach it potential the movie does present itself as an honest effort by a cast and crew who are still in the process of honing their crafts.

The story was created by Neil Abramson who also directed. His previous writing consisted of a relationship drama, ‘Defining Maggie’ but his directorial efforts display and interesting variety. The helmed and scripted the documentary ‘Soldier Child’ about the abuses of children in Northern Uganda. This resume demonstrates two fields of interest that he melded together for this film; relationships and the effects of war. Working on the screenplay is another new comer to scripting; Eric Schmid. Along with Abramson they do come up with a touching story that portrays a realistic and timely subject with sensitivity. The major place where the story goes off track is forgivable considering the lack of experience of the writers and director. The film aims very high, and I appreciate the lofty bar these men set for themselves. The execution is just beyond their grasp at this point in their careers. While this introduces some technical mistakes into the production it is also a vital part of the independent film world. Without trying, even when the results are not up to the anticipations, there would not be any progress in the art of cinema. What is evident here is the people involved were willing to take the risk for the sake of improving their professional abilities.

Mike Holland (Nick Cannon) is only 19 years old and is returning to his home in Bakersfield, California after completing boot camp for the United States Marines in Fort Pendleton. Mike was given a four day leave to return home for the Thanksgiving Holiday prior to his deployment to battle torn Iraq. Even though he has not been away for very long, from Mike’s new perspective it seems more like a lifetime ago. What is immediately evident here is how the realization of the battlefield looming so soon in his future has forced Mike to grow up far faster than id friends back home. He purposely refrains from talking to most of his friends and family about his destination; with the hours dwindling rapidly Mike still hasn’t full processed those facts himself. He discovers the emotional tone back home to be mixed. He has met a young woman, Cristina (Melonie Diaz) but although they hit it off they is just too little time. On the more unsettling side is Mike’s uneasy reunion with his estranged father Eddie (Chi McBride) who he has not seen for a few years. Some of Mike’s former buddies have grown to resent him for making something of himself and getting out of the desolate neighborhood. Most of them still fill their days and nights with aimless hanging out and getting high. Many people are familiar Cannon as the husband of Mariah Carey or a silly cable improvisation show. His performance here demonstrates his determination to break away and re-chart the direction of his career going forward; he shows a command of the material here giving more depth to his portrayal than his previous work would have indicated. There is a rough, unpolished feel to this film but considering the subject matter comes across as brutally real.

Posted 08/24/09

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