IMDb > Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story (2002)

Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story (2002) More at IMDbPro »

Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story -- CUL DE SAC explores the chilling true-life story of Shawn Nelson, a 35 year-old plumber from Clairemont, California, who emerged from an eighteen foot mine shaft he had dug beneath his backyard in search for gold, stole a tank from a nearby National Guard armory; and went on a rampage through the streets of his neighborhood, crushing cars and lamp posts until the cops took him down.


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In May 1995, Shawn Nelson, a 35 year-old plumber from Clairemont, California, emerged from an eighteen... See more » | Add synopsis »
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Thought Provoking See more (5 total) »


Shawn Nelson ... Himself

Directed by
Garrett Scott 
Writing credits
(in alphabetical order)
Ian Olds 
Garrett Scott 

Produced by
Garrett Scott .... producer
Cinematography by
Adrian Zaragoza 
Film Editing by
Ian Olds 
Sound Department
Eli Yerbury .... sound

Production CompaniesDistributors

Additional Details

55 min
Filming Locations:


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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful.
Thought Provoking, 3 July 2005
Author: ThePrinceofPeas from San Tropez, France

Cul de Sac is a great flick. It's about Shawn Nelson, the unemployed plumber and former Gulf War vet, who took an M-60 tank on a six mile rampage across San Diego. There's footage of it on shows like "World's Most Dangerous Police Chases".

Shawn was suffering from depression after a divorce, drug addiction (meth) and the death of his parents. It also sounds like he had a unhealthy dose of paranoia. Shawn used to tell his buddies and co-workers that one day he'd steal a tank and drive up the steps of city hall. There's some cool interviews. Shawn's older brother talks about how much he misses him and said what a nice guy he was, as he gets choked up. Shawn's buddies were heavy crystal meth users but he spent a lot of his free time teaching them the basics of plumbing so they could find work.

Shawn was pretty out there too: he dug a 25 foot deep mine shaft in the basement of his small San Diego home in a quiet residential neighborhood. He became detached from reality when he believed he was finding gold dust and flakes in the dirt beneath his house. Supposedly, there were small amounts of gold in the rocks so he filed with the city for mineral rights on his property. His claim was denied. Enter disillusionment. Shawn was obviously a heavy crystal user and the goldmining sounds like a tweak thing. Shawn had generators in the basement and had even converted his jacuzzi into a sluice for his goldpanning. His buddies, all former meth addicts, were telling stories about all going down the mineshaft to dig for gold. It became a community tweak project. "Let's go to Shawn's to dig for gold". Meth heads and parolees would stop by Shawn's, do drugs, and then "head down the mine". Shawn's backyard was brimming with mounds of dirt. The neighbors must've been freaked out.

The documentary attempts to link Shawn's erratic methamphetamine-fueled behaviour back to the defence industry in San Diego. During the Cold War bomber crews would use methamphetamine to stay awake and alert for 24 hours straight. The filmmaker suggests San Diego, a post war community made up of military families and defence contractors, was a haven for meth as early as the 1950s.

When his mineral rights were denied by the local government it was probably the last straw for Shawn. His grip on reality seemed to be tenuous at best. His disillusionment now turned to anger. The rest is history. He stole a tank, crushed cars and RV's, knocked over utility poles but eventually tried to cross a concrete highway divider. The tank was stuck. San Diego Police opened the hatch with bolt cutters and shot 35-year-old Shawn Nelson to death. From the helicopter video, it looked like he wanted to cross the divider and drive headlong into oncoming traffic. Based on that, I think the officer's actions were justifiable.

A sad story but in a sense he's gained immortality. No one who has seen the video of his tank rampage will ever forget it!

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