American Gun and Crash are two films that will always be linked together in my mind. Not because they have anything really in common outside of offering multiple storylines about a societal issue, but because the latter should have been like the former. I’m pretty sure everyone has seen or at least heard about Crash excessively because of the many Academy Awards the picture received, so I won’t go into much detail outside of a comparison of the two films later. American Gun was a underseen independent feature from 2005. It features 3, though you can argue 4, stories about how guns have affected and still affect 3 different communities. The one that we’re all most familiar with is obviously the inner city one. This story is viewed from two different angles, the principal (Forest Whitaker) and the star student (Kevin Phillips) at his school. Phillips’ character is forced to carry a gun to school because he has to work a night job to help support his family. Initially he doesn’t want to carry a gun, because you know only good things happen when guns are involved, but later decides to get one from his friend after being nearly shot and robbed at the gas station that he works at. Forest Whitaker’s character finds the gun, it wasn’t brought into school because it was hidden outside of it, as Phillips is trying to stash it away before heading into school. He is essentially given an ultimatum about whether or not he wants to be expelled because he needs to have to gun on him when he goes to work at night.
The second story is about a college girl who goes home for the summer after having previously had a friend in an incident. It’s never brought to light, but that’s unimportant because the point is that it has left a mark on her psyche. She spends the summer working with her grandfather in the gun store that she owns always feeling incredibly uneasy while there. A little later on she goes to another gun store looking for a gun to buy and to get more comfortable with the idea of holding a gun. This was probably the only appropriate short to me in the movie. I would have liked to see the other two expanded. The third story involved in American Gun is about a single mother and her son a few moths after their other son shot up the school and then killed himself. I honestly have no idea why this wasn’t and hasn’t been expanded on by anyone. Living after the tragedy. I’d rather not get into the storyline of this one because it’s better if you see it yourself. However, it was fascination and heartbreaking how the mother still views her son and how the son thinks about his brother after the shooting.
The thing that binds these two movies together in my mind is the fact that American Gun did what Crash was attempting to do (or should have been trying to do) and failed. In Crash the entire movie is about build up and than explosions of racial tension or racial enlightenment. It attempts to examine why and how people get into their particular frames of mind, but all it amounts in doing is showing people screaming or acting out “I’M FED UP WITH THIS SHIT AND I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!”. This would be fine if it wasn’t involved in over half the plot lines in the movie. They are then lefte without impact. This doesn’t get to the core of the problem being that, not all people would react to racism in this way. Everyone in this movie either internalized it until they break out in a fit of rage or they are part of the pack that reaches racial enlightenment because an “other” was actually kind to them. This stands in contrast to American Gun which instead attempts to show how guns affect people in different ways and let’s the characters breathe. There are understandably arguments considering what the different characters go to. But it isn’t contrived like Crash. Instead, like in real life, the build up is based on of the piling of the little things that have bothering the characters on top of the gun issue relates to the people involved. The straw that broke the camel’s back and all that jazz.
American Gun‘s greatest triumph over Crash is the fact that it realizes the issue at hand is complicated and it wouldn’t simply be resolved because one person acts nice to another person in one instance. Considering the fact that racism is a deep seeded attitude that likely had years, if not decades to cultivate, one instance of someone being nice isn’t all of the sudden going to erase all those ugly things said about someone. American Gun understands this and instead opts for maybe not happy endings in all cases involved but instances of life.