Judge Joel Pearce has a fake ID so he can still pass for 17.
Anything can happen in 96 hours.
American Son isn't an easy film to watch or review. In some ways, it's a truly excellent film, featuring a great lead performance and some sincerely moving scenes. At the same time, a kitchen sink approach to plotting prevents it from being the film it should have been, leaving it best recommended for viewers who have connections to the military.
Facts of the Case
Mike (Nick Cannon, Underclassmen) has the Thanksgiving weekend off—four full days away from the Marines. It's also the weekend at the end of his training, and before he's about to head off to Iraq. He has 96 hours to reacquaint himself with his family and say goodbye. On his way home, he meets Cristina (Melonie Diaz, Be Kind Rewind) and they strike up a friendship. Now, he has to balance that side of his life as well.
I would be very interested in hearing what prospective, current, and former Marines think about American Son. I am so far from that experience it's hard to quantify how accurately this film reflects the knowledge that you are about to be shipped off to Iraq. In some ways, the attempts of the filmmakers to show this very particular situation is the film's greatest asset. We believe that a fresh Marine would need to say goodbye—maybe forever—but would also want to celebrate the opportunity. Nick Cannon gives a very good performance, juggling sensitivity and charisma.
As a film, though, American Son's attempt to capture what could go through a Marine's mind during his last four days of freedom is also its biggest problem. Instead of focusing in on a few problems and situations, Mike goes through everything he could possibly go through in the course of a few days. A new relationship, family issues, a drug-dealing friend, fistfights, partying friends, a troubled younger brother…Mike's life is a perfect storm for the theme of the film. For a little while, this plays out just fine, but eventually it seems implausible. Instead of being a film about Mike, it is a film about guys like Mike, and that undermines his performance.
The characters also have some serious age issues. Cannon seems significantly older—well into his 20s—but the character acts younger. This is also seen in Mike's friend, Jake (Matt O'Leary, Brick). Jake needs to use his fake ID to buy beer, but he's able to bring prostitutes along to a party and deals drugs. Surely guys with so many underworld connections could track down some beer. These inconsistencies are a lot more troubling after the film is over, when we're left to contemplate what we've seen. It could have been a better film if everyone wasn't trying so hard.
American Son is shot well, with some nice handheld camera work and good use of natural lighting. Unfortunately, the DVD transfer itself doesn't do justice to the cinematography. The image looks smeared, and overprocessed to the point where details get lost. The color looks pretty good overall, though some scenes have been too desaturated in order to match the mood of the film. The sound transfer is better, with a good combination of voice and music. There are a few special features as well. There's an awkwardly directionless production featurette, as well as some deleted scenes an an audio commentary.
As I've already said, I'm probably the wrong person to review American Son. If someone close to you is in Iraq or Afghanistan, I suspect this film would be a very moving experience—if not more than you could handle emotionally. At the same time, Marines and ex-Marines might find the whole thing too convenient and full of clichés. At the end of the film, I felt myself wishing I could see a documentary that followed a group of Marines during a last weekend of freedom like this. I suspect that a documentary would have a much larger emotional punch in telling this story, and appeal to a wider audience.
Despite some minor complaints, American Son is not guilty. It is
instructed to report for duty.
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