his way home from Camp Pendleton for a four day liberty over
Thanksgiving weekend, Marine Corps Private Mike Holland meets
Cristina, a smart beautiful young woman with plans for college.
There's an immediate attraction and by the time they arrive
back in their hometown of Bakersfield a romance has been kindled.
But Mike's troubled home life and a tempestuous relationship
with Jake, his best friend high school, threaten to intrude
on what had promised to be an idyllic R&R. And Cristina's
immigrant family (she's Mexican-American, Mike's black) has
other plans for her that don't include a 96-hour love affair
with a Marine about to ship off to parts unknown but whatever.
Mike's nineteen and after six months of grueling training
he wants nothing but good times. So he jumps headlong into
four days of wild parties, fights, joy, anger and tenderness
trying to savour his first true love and final moments of
freedom without the infringement of responsiblity. Through
it all, though, Mike harbors a troubling seceryt and soon
discovers that grown-up reality has a way of trumping youthful
illusions and that the war at home can be just as perilous
as the one that looms like a bad dream ten thousand miles
Neil Abramson-directed family drama joins a long list of movies
in recent years that attempt to deconstruct the cost of the
Iraqi war on the American nation, its families and its soldiers.
While many other such films tell their story from a post-war
perspective, “American Son” does so pre-war through
a Marine, Mike (Nick Cannon), who is on Thanksgiving leave
from Camp Pendleton just before he ships off.
over the course of four days, it is both about the inner struggles
Mike encounters with his imminent departure, as well as the
friends and family he has to deal with during his time back
home. Through a series of volatile events, including an unexpected
romantic encounter, director Abramson and writer Eric Schmid
endeavour at revealing the psyche behind America’s youths,
and their motivation for signing up for a war few actually
is a lofty ambition for trying to get at something so intrinsically
complex and intricate, and lauded though the filmmakers must
be for attempting, “American Son” falls way short
of succeeding. In fact, it doesn’t take long into the
movie before one realises so. One of the first scenes in the
movie has Mike approaching a totally random stranger on the
bus home, a Latino girl called Cristina (Melonie Diaz), whom
Mike eventually exchanges phone numbers and eventually falls
in love with. How likely is that, you ask?
other aspects of Mike’s life also fails to convince-
he lives with his stepfather whom he doesn’t like and
continues to stay in contact with his biological father; he
has a doting mother who is strong-willed but always supportive;
and he hangs out with a group of friends who get drunk and
smoke pot. Were these clichés better fleshed out, we
might have had a more believable character in Mike; as it
is, “American Son” makes a caricature of not just
Mike, but also other adolescent youths, who enlist in the
it is only during the final ten minutes when Mike launches
into a predictable diatribe of his pained life that one finally
gets a sense of what the movie should have been- an honest
examination of broken families and confused youths that is
the state of the U.S. military ever since its Mideast offensive.
By then however, “American Son” is no more than
a missed opportunity at portraying an acute picture of social
reality that is prescient even till today.
doesn’t help that Nick Cannon is hardly the competent
actor to pull off such a role. The husband of Mariah Carey
looks every bit the privileged teenager that is unlikely to
be the face of the American soldier in battle. Faring much
better is his co-star Matt O’Leary, who plays his provocative
friend Jake- one can’t help but think that Leary would
have made a more convincing lead than Cannon.
“American Son” is a noble attempt that ultimately
falls way short of what it could have been. The subject it
raises though is an interesting and pertinent one, and if
writer/director Kimberly Peirce (of the Iraqi war drama “Stop
Loss”) should consider doing a similarly-themed movie,
she could very well consider this topic for an equally compelling
movie that “American Son” unfortunately is not.
Dolby Digital 2.0 audio suffices for a mostly talky picture.
Image is clear but could be sharper especially during the
film’s night scenes.
DVD RATING :
by Gabriel Chong
Posted on 8 February 2010