American Gun (2002)

“American Gun” is two things. First, it’s a fascinating examination of how one event in your life, one simple mistake can change the course of events and alter your life forever. Second, it’s a fitting send-off to one of America’s great actors. James Coburn, the great James Coburn plays Martin Tillman, a retired man whose family is falling apart. The woman he fell in love with is all but a stranger to him, his daughter Penny is living with them to get away from her life, and her daughter has just run away. Martin is a good man, a man who is doing everything to keep his family together. Weekly he meets with his grand daughter secretly, sneaking her money and conversing with her as she confides with him, he attempts to communicate with his almost non-communicative wife, and he keeps Penny together, but one night she’s killed by the bullet of a gun, and the family shatters further.

What “American Gun” then becomes is a statement on gun control, and troubled pasts. Coburn is a conflicted man still haunted by his past who attempts to take control of his family which is quickly falling apart, but once Penny dies, he sets out to find the owner of that gun and where it originally came from, and where it will lead him, will expose the shocking climax that will throw you for a loop, as it did me. Sometimes movies promising surprise endings rarely ever surprise me, and I’m able to get what the climax will entail, but “American Gun” sideswiped my expectations fully. Tillman’s search for the gun’s origins leads to different segments of showing how the gun was used, and much of it is not presented in a positive light, and gun control is definitely the key theme here.

Madsen definitely glows here as the opposite to Martin who has lost control of her life and seeks to do so by living with her parents hoping to regain some sense. Her death in the film strikes a true emotional chord with the rest of the story and leads to a very heartfelt and sad finale. Coburn gives an amazing performance as a man who literally goes from out of his element and decides to take charge looking for his grand daughter, played by Alexandra Holden who gives a warm performance. Eventually he’s faced with the ordeal of telling her what happened. Coburn gives his last performance and gives a truly heartfelt one that is dignified, inspiring, and a fitting send-off to an utterly top-notch illustrious career. Coburn is very demanding in his low-key role and really performs in high status stealing every scene he’s in, and is very worth seeing.

The climax which makes the entire film is very thought-provoking and makes the movie all worth the effort. Much of the film is comprised of flashbacks, flash back showing the origin of the gun and of focusing on the character of Penny, all of which make this an often times dreadful movie to watch. Virginia Madsen would be my first choice for a role in the hay, but wouldn’t exactly be my first choice to play an eighteen year old, and through the utterly awful flashbacks we get to see a lot of Penny’s childhood which consists of Madsen playing much younger than she should be. We see her playing her character on prom night, when she was in high school and the suspension is disbelief is too illogical to let it slide, not to mention many of the flashbacks are shot so badly it’s hard to get in to the movie at all.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the movie, the shots of the journeys of the gun are badly acted, badly shot, and corny to say the least while completely sticking out from the film. It was rather distracting and took me out of the narrative a great deal. Essentially, “American Gun” isn’t a perfect film, its most important story aspect fails to deliver on the dramatic tension, and most of the film is slow, but the film does have a socially conscious moral and presents a fitting send off to one of America’s best actors who dominates the screen.