American Son (2008): Neil Abramson Sundance Fest Film

Sundance Film Fest 2008 (Dramatic Competition)–A chronicle of a young mans 96-hour leave before being shipped off to Iraq, Neil Abramson’s American Son is a low-key, occasionally poignant coming-of-age saga, a portrait of the passage from adolescence to adulthood and of facing the uncertainties of the future.

In joining the Marines, African American Mike Holland has already chosen a path, but in returning home for what could be the last time, he is suspending his lifes journey, albeit temporarily. This respite is confusing because he hasnt disclosed to anyone where he is headed. It’s further complicated by an affair with an attractive woman that was kindled on the bus ride home.

Hollands disintegrating family world, his tempestuous best friend, and a rapidly evolving romance, all set within a taut time frame, make for a potentially vitally dramatic saga, but as scripted by Eric Schmid and helmed by Abramson, the tale is too fractured to accumulate power, and most of its episodes are familiar from other films.

The film’s weakest segments, which relate the friendship of Mike with his buddies, some of whom feel neglected and/or deserted by him, recall Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” and the countless offshoots of that influential feature, such as the 1993 Sundance entry, “Amongst Friends.” This is particularly the case of Mike, a black guy proud of race, and his closest chum, a white volatile guy.

The strongest scenes are those depicting the evolving romance between Mike and a Latina girl (Melonie Diaz, who can also be seen in “Be Kind Rewind”), a sweet portrayal of two nave adolescents that want to do the right thing, without being stifled by their depression socio-economic and familial milieu.

Overall, “American Son” (which is too generic a title) resonates with the particular locale, the bleakness of dead-end, working class Bakersfield, capturing the diversity, racially, economically and culturally, in depicting affectingly an odd commonplace.
The filmmakers deserve credit for bringing to the fore the issue of socio-economic positions and in suggesting that, ultimately, social class, not race, is the determining factor in the conduct of the town’s residents.

Director Neil Abramson creates an emotionally effective, intermittently taut and insightful tale, which alternates between despair and hope, but ends in a powerful, patriotic way, without sounding fake or contrived.

The entire cast is impressive, from the leads, played with a great deal of charm by Nick Cannon and Melonie Diaz, as the central couple, to the supporting roles, including Jay Hernandez as a bitter, crippled Iraq War vet.

Cast

Nick Cannon, Melonie Diaz, Matt O’Leary, Tom Sizemore, April Grace, Jay Hernandez, Chi McBride, Sean Marquette, Michael Welch, Percy Daggs III, Ray Santiago.

b>Credits

A Winghead Films production, in association with Map Point Pictures, Night and Day Pictures. (International sales: United Talent Agency). Produced by Daneille Renfrew, Michael Roiff. Executive producers, Chris Frisina, Alex Kohner. Co-producer, Keeley Gould.
Directed by Neil Abramson.
Screenplay: Eric Schmid; story, Abramson, Schmid.
Camera: Kristian Kachikis.
Editor: Karen Schmeer.
Music: Tim Boland, Sam Retzer.
Music supervisors: Greg Danylyshyn, Gerry Cueller.
Production designer: Paula Good.
Art director: Chris Giola.
Costume designer: Christie Wittenborn.
Sound: Jay Verkamp.
Supervising sound editor: Trip Brock.
Visual effects supervisor: Lee “Rod” Roderick.
Visual effects: Handmade Digital.

Running time: 84 Minutes.