EmptySundance Film Festival
PARK CITY -- No fortunate son, this U.S. Marine is one of the unheralded grunts soon to be sent to Iraq. It is a sobering depiction of the hard background that many of our front-line soldiers shoulder.
Stirringly told, "American Son" dramatizes a harsh social reality and tributes this nation's fighting force. Fittingly, it was saluted with a warm audience reception at Sundance.
With a documentarylike structure, this sharp drama focuses on a Marine's 96-hour liberty. On leave for Thanksgiving from Camp Pendleton, Pvt. Mike Holland (Nick Cannon) Greyhounds to a much-needed R&R at his home in Bakersfield. Getting into the spirit, Mike connects with an attractive fellow traveler, Cristina (Melonie Diaz), who also lives in Bakersfield. Mike sets her in his sights for the long weekend, realizing there might be resistance -- he is black, she is Latino.
But rest and relaxation are not the operative words for Mike's home life and environment: His older brother is a druggie on the way to his third strike, his father is a distant bad apple, and his best friend is an out-of-control pusher.
Yearning for a restorative, romantic weekend, Mike is ambushed by family uncertainties and friends' resentments. He gets little respect for his enlistment, rejected by those who begrudge him his ambition to better himself. He also harbors a frightening secret: He's headed out to Iraq.
Keenly depicting personal challenges that many of our enlisted soldiers must endure, "American Son" reverberates with its blunt insights into Mike's situation; he is putting himself on the line for family and friends who belittle his integrity or ridicule his pride. Screenwriters Neil Abramson and Eric Schmid rivet us to Mike's world and inspire our appreciation for him. Interspersing romance, teenage misadventure and family hardship, "American Son" inspires emotions that a documentary film on the same subject matter would be hard-pressed to duplicate. A front-and-center medal to Abramson for his exemplary direction, distilling a representative story though the power of the personal scope.
As the most honorable young Marine, Cannon exudes a confident charm and a steely will. It's a terrific and sympathetic performance. Diaz blends uncertainty with passion as Mike's new girlfriend, while Matt O'Leary is aptly frightening as his hell-raising buddy.
Under Abramson's caring hand, technical contributions are inspection-perfect. A deserved salute to cinematographer Kris Kachikis' sharp scopings and editor Karen Schmeer's crisp cuts.
Map Point Pictures, Nightand Day Pictures, Winghead Films
Director: Neil Abramson
Screenwriters: Neil Abramson, Eric Schmid
Producers: Danielle Renfrew, Michael Roiff
Executive producer: Chris Frisina
Director of photography: Kris Kachikis
Editor: Karen Schmeer
Mike Holland: Nick Cannon
Cristina: Melonie Diaz
Jake: Matt O'Leary
Junior Morales: Jay Hernandez
Dale: Tom Sizemore
Eddie: Chi McBride
Donna: April Grace
Running time -- 87 minutes
No MPAA rating