In their last 36 hours before embarking upon a different type of battleground, i.e., the war in Afghanistan, two best friends, Luis and Ronald, will capture on video their countdown moments leading up to their enlistment as Marine Corp. Luis (Jamil Walker Smith, Stargate Universe) and Ronald (Malcolm Goodwin, American Gangster) are polar opposites in terms of personalities; however, both share memories of growing up in Los Angeles and will leave behind families that express mixed emotions about their decision to fight in the war.
Luis is the lighthearted prankster and Ronald is the philosophical soon-to-be father. Luis was abandoned by his father at a very young age and then later in life by a girlfriend that moved to Brooklyn, NY. Although Luis dreams of being a filmmaker someday, his low grades didn’t secure a scholarship to the University. Ronald, on the other hand, is shown reading a thought-provoking book while on a beach excursion and in another scene, talking to and rubbing his pregnant girlfriend’s belly. Ronald wants to travel the world and provide for his family. Luis and Ronald are exploring a path of self-discovery and unmask painful emotional wounds. For both, the Marine Corp appears to be the only way out of the neighborhood based on lures of their military recruiter.
Luis and Ronald will eventually joyride, party, and one night stand with random girls who are looking for a carefree time as well. Other film footage captures close relatives and friends giving goodbyes and farewell speeches that interweave piercing political messages. While in Afghanistan, the filming of their experience resumes as they bond with other young adults, with similar hopes and dreams.
The American Dream is redolent of raw emotion and sorrowful pain which can be expected where the topic is war and serving one’s country. Even so, writer and director Jamil Walker Smith aimed for more than a typical war story. When commenting about making the film, these thoughts ensued, ‘We weren’t making a film about war…we were making a film that questions a “system” that leaves young people with no better alternative than going to war. A system that appeals to young people’s self-interests, and, in turn, puts them in a position of self-sacrifice.” The American Dream won Best Director at the 2011 Urbanworld Film Festival. That same year, The American Dream was the recipient of the New Visions Award at the Cinequest Film Festival. The film’s strength is its authentic portrayal of how one may easily get cornered into joining the military. The glaring drawback was the collapse or disconnect between the visual images and the music. There are scenes that drag and/or belabor the point but overall one quickly gets the Director’s drift.