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American Gun
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American Gun More at IMDbPro »

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21 out of 27 people found the following review useful:

Coburn's last hurrah gets two cheers

Author: FilmFlaneur from London
6 May 2003

American Gun is a suitably elegiac and death-obsessed film that closed the career of James Coburn. It's a sometimes worthy, but never less than interesting story, starting as one thing and ending as another. It begins as one man's search for truth, and finishes as the truth about a man. Along the way, director Alan Jacobs (whose previous credits have been romantic dramas and comedies) fashions an interesting narrative, using flashbacks and reconstruction in ways that are dramatically intriguing and never distracting.

Coburn plays Martin Tillman, whose daughter Penny (Virginia Masden) is killed in a shooting. Martin, an infantry veteran of the Second World War, experiences vivid memories of combat and his youth - notably his meeting and early romance with his wife Anne (Barbara Bain, a face familiar from re-runs of TV's original Mission: Impossible) as well as the traumatic killing of a young sniper who shot his friend. At the same time Martin seeks to re establish contact with Penny's estranged daughter (Alexandra Holden) who, after blaming her mother for her father's desertion, has disappeared.

Martin's grief over loss, and one-man odyssey to find the owner of the gun that killed his daughter is what lies at the centre of the film. Elderly, and with his knuckles visibly distorted by arthritis, Coburn still has an undeniable screen presence, raising the film out of the ordinary, and gives a quiet authority which adds necessary gravitas to his search. Despite being predicated around a violent act, American Gun is a relatively subdued film, making points about weapon ownership, responsibility and guilt in persistent ways that, understandably, caused some irritation amongst gun-owning filmgoers at home. It also had the bad luck to be made as a change of administration, and then the events of September 11th, marked a sea change in American attitudes to arms. It is doubtful that a film, which plays so much on the social question of weaponry, would be made today.

Besides some wintry settings, there is an excellent score, the work of the underrated Anthony Marinelli, which enhances much of the film's tone. Marinelli's spare note clusters, floating in dead air as it were, emphasise the silence and loss in lives touched by the gun. They suggest how much grief isolates the central character from all but the most essential relationships, where he can only really communicate by writing letters to a dead woman. The epistolary nature of many of Martin's scenes, as well as the distancing effect of his flashbacks, remove him further from daily life and place him further in his self-absorbed quest. ("He's on a crusade," despairs his wife at one point.) Martin's dedication to his search is also counter-pointed by a crisis in faith: "I still believe in God," he says during a glum meeting with a young pastor, "but I don't know what to make of him." Given the nature of Martin's grief, the churchman understandably finds it hard to offer more than passing support.

American Gun is apt title. It refers both to a weapon, as well as the name of the company manufacturing the offending item (Its factory of the same name is the first place Martin visits). Like something aimed and fired itself, Martin's single-minded journey transcribes its own trajectory, until it reaches its mark. Along the way we discover the gun's history: as an instrument of death in the hand of an abduction victim, a means of revenge for a jealous youth, and so on. The gun has taken more than one life and, the film suggests, is typical of such items passing through so many hands. Whether or not one takes this simplification at face value is down to the position held on gun control. Meanwhile the film benefits from an avoidance of hectoring, and a script that demonstrates the casual dissemination of small arms, as well as the numbing effects of their misuse.

Jacob's film recalls the similar premise explored in John Badham's The Gun (1974), an above average TV movie in which another firearm was followed from cradle to grave, although here the irony is of another sort. In Badham's film the piece is only fired once (at the end) for instance, while Jacob's weapon is used several times. American Gun also has a more complicated structure, the filmmakers using a combination of narrative and filmic methods to show the effects of gun violence on individuals. It is also has a clever twist in the tale, one which accords the hero greater tragic status as well as forcing us to reinterpret events. This ending, while the film still tends towards the episodic, reaffirms Martin's central role and allows the peculiarly penitential nature of his quest to be explained.

There's nothing about the film that wouldn't sit just as comfortably on the little screen as on the big, but it rarely drags and sustains interest. Those who seek the dynamism of most films explicitly associated with weaponry will be advised to look for thrills elsewhere. Those who'd enjoy a quiet, well made look at a perceived American blight, as well as those wanting a last glimpse of a memorable Hollywood star still at work, should check this out.

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20 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Coburn is wonderful

Author: zampino from Los Angeles
13 August 2002

`American Gun' offers several levels of reward to its audiences. First, is a Oscar caliber, powerfully moving performance from one of America's finest actors, James Coburn. It is rare in our system that an actor, even of James's stature, at his age is offered the opportunity to strut his stuff; and strut he does. With pain, wisdom, and gentleness expressed both in his face and in his gnarled hands, his performance is great. I guarantee no one will walk out of this film unchanged and unmoved by this alone. `American Gun' is a film about America and its scope is huge. On one level it deals with a subjects that are all but taboo in the mainstream media, i.e. American's contradictory infatuation with guns and violence and the all too real repercussions they have with our individual and collective lives. On another level it examines the ethical context of violence in religion, in warfare, in the streets, in the cause of justice as well as in the pursuit of evil. It sounds deep, but you will be entertained by this film, but you will also walk of the theater thinking about some fundamental issues. That's not bad is it?

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12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:


Author: jotix100 from New York
3 April 2005

"American Gun" directed by Alan Jacobs was a surprise. Not having heard about it before, intrigued me. Mr. Jacobs, directing from his own material, has created a movie that on on level is telling us we are going on one direction, but in reality, he is playing with us since the trip he is taking us is not what we had in mind.

If you haven't seen the film, perhaps you would like to stop reading.

Martin Tillman, the man at the center of the story, is a man that still remember his days during WWII; how can one ever forget those horrors lived in that, or any other, conflict? In flashbacks we get to know how young Martin and the lovely Anne, meet, fall in love and marry eventually. Their union seems to be a happy one. They have a daughter, Penny, a single mother, who returns home for the holidays after her own daughter, Mia, leaves her home.

Not all is happy among the Tillman family. Martin, who is in his seventies, appears to be a man not at peace with himself or the world. When Penny is mugged during a trip to the store to return Martin's Christmas gift for Anne. Penny meets an unexpected death, or does she? Mr. Jacobs is too devious to tell us the truth, thus contributing to the mystery surrounding Martin's resolve in finding the man who killed Penny.

Thus begins a series of trips into different areas of the country. All these trips end in failure. Martin keeps compiling data and we feel as though he is close to get his revenge. At this moment in the story, Mr. Jacobs intervene to show us in flashbacks the missing links of the gruesome murder. We realize then that Martin has not been interested in resolving the crime at all.

James Coburn made his last appearance on this film. He appears as though he is in great physical pain. As he proved in "Affliction", he was an actor to be reckoned with, although sometimes, his choice of projects was not exactly the best. Yet, he surprises us playing Martin Tillman. He obviously understood this troubled man and the price he is paying for his sins.

Virginia Madsen is seen briefly at the beginning of the story and in flashbacks. Ms. Madsen makes the best of the ill fated Penny. Barbara Bain plays the suffering wife, Anne. One wonders whatever went wrong in Anne's early love for Martin and the bitter person she turns out to be in her later years. The murder of Penny clearly contributes to alienate her from her husband. Ms. Bain short time on the screen makes an excellent contribution to the film.

Mr. Jacobs underlying message is about the American fascination with guns, but he is not judgmental on the issue, as some comments in this page seem to criticize him for doing. This is a serious movie dealing with an controversial subject.

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14 out of 20 people found the following review useful:

Great ending (in every sense of the word)

Author: lee nicholson (dolemite72) from middlesbrough, UK
25 July 2004

JAMES COBURN bowed out like true star in AMERICAN GUN, a strange, yet rewarding cross between ON GOLDEN POND and THE LIMEY (with shades of THE CROSSING GUARD). And for once (oh well, maybe twice) COBURN does not come accross all smooth, cool and calm. He is very human, and is capable of making mistakes (one rather big one, it turns out!) and the director only gives you as many clues as he wants, so that when the events playback in sequence (and only in that order) does the viewer, fully understand the whole story. The final shot of COBURN, all bitter and twisted, yet slightly redeemed, is rather haunting COBURN asside, every performance in this movie is spot-on. The ever gorgeous VIRGINIA MADSEN especially effective, in the few scenes she's in. Once again, i cannot praise this fine movie, but it must be watched till the end (and in one sitting) to be truly appreciated. Oh well, JAMES COBURN, your 'star' will continue to shine on in heaven. But back here on earth, you shone also. You left the world, a better place than when you first found it.

10 out of 10

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10 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Well Worth Seeing

Author: purpleaddict from Bay Area, California
31 August 2003

I saw this film at the Sonoma Film Festival earlier this year and was pleasantly surprised. It was not what I was expecting.

James Coburn gave a tremendous performance and all the other actors were very good as well.

I was able to buy into what the film was selling, but I was not expecting the twist at the end. About ten minutes before the twist was revealed, I starting thinking this was the direction they were headed. I just sat there thinking "No, that can't be where they are taking this." It was difficult to see the ending and I felt disturbed by the movie for a while afterwards.

I recommended it to friends and think it is well worth seeing.

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11 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

A very good movie with a message and a surprising twist

Author: ( from Hesperia, California
7 April 2005

I saw this movie for the first time a few days ago. I have been a James Coburn fan since I was a kid so seeing his name in the starring role made me want to check it out although I had never heard of this movie before. Apparently, it was his last movie and I was really pleased to see him finish his career with such a good role. This movie has a great message without being preachy and the twist in the story caught me completely by surprise and I love that sort of thing. I was pleasantly surprised to see Barbara Bain (another favorite of mine) playing his wife. It took me a minute to recognize her. I just wanted to add my comments on this movie because of the other review I saw here that dismissed it as something not very good. I would hate to see someone pass up a chance to see James Coburn's last movie because of some misguided comments by someone who thinks they are a critic. This is an interesting and informative movie and is well worth viewing especially if you are or were a Coburn fan.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

James Coburn at his finest!

Author: shaggy97401 from Los Angeles
17 September 2002

This is a wonderful film starring James Coburn in a heart wrenching tale of a fathers plight for discovery, truth, and bring closure to his daughter's murder. He embarks on a cross country quest to find her killer, discover himself and find his beloved granddaughter.

This film is masterfully done and highly recommended.

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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Expecting little....I was enthralled

Author: jjacobs49 from NY
2 April 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Channel-flipping, I stopped at "American Gun". Ready to change to another movie, I decided to give it 5-minutes. 15-minutes. All 95- minutes.

*** spoiler*** An elderly grandfather, haunted by a traumatic split-second decision made during WW2, goes on to be haunted by another traumatic split-second decision made in the present.

To me, movies don't have to be perfect. If they hold my attention, if they make me feel something, if they make me muse about what has been presented, I am happy.

See it.

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6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

It's not about finding fault, it's about finding reason

Author: sbrittan1 from Los Angeles, California
5 June 2003

At first I thought this film was going to be about finding a killer and blaming guns and the lack of laws we have in the United States controlling them. I was wrong. This is a story of relationships, and what it takes to keep them. The writing is sensitive, not safe by any means and gets to the heart of every human. I was touched by the candid view points of the characters and how the camera and direction noticed them. This is a strong story, not too simple and very complex but very real and grass rooted. The bottom line is...I can see this happening to anyone...anywhere and I was thrilled that it made me feel this way. I thought all the performances were believable and brilliantly acted. Even though Mr. Coburn isn't on this earth to receive one, he should be nominated for an Oscar.

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5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

I was blown away by this (forgive the pun)

Author: nhpbob from Kew Gardens, NY
25 October 2002

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I saw this film at the recent Hamptons International Film Festival, in a packed house on the extra day of screenings, when several films are shown for free as a thank-you to the community the day after the film festival officially ends. Everyone was riveted by the story, and I noticed the same thing from the paying customers earlier in the week. Many people walk out of the film somewhat shocked and quite moved.

This film is masterfully done, despite what another reviewer says here.

A strong performance from James Coburn, and equally good performances from Virginia Madsen (one of the most underrated actresses around since the 80s), Barbara Bain, Alexandra Holden, and Ryan Locke playing a younger version of Coburn. The parallel stories of his youth, and his current tragic life, are done well. Images of the past sit side by side with the present day.

As befits its title, this film spans America as James Coburn looks for the history of people who used the gun that recently killed his daughter. Like all good "road" movies, the journey here ends satisfyingly. The story has a damn good surprise for the audience in the last 15 minutes, and like other films that do that, it makes you mentally go back to what one saw as the film unfolded. In other words, I certainly want to see this a second time, and see it from the new perspective that sitting through it once brings you.

I'd talk more about what impressed me about the story, but that would be one big spoiler. Suffice to say that this film is best viewed fresh. If someone were smart, it would get a theatrical release. That way Coburn gets a well deserved Best Actor nomination?....

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