Posted: 08/25/2009

 

American Son

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen




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“Experience a gripping story that rises above politics and centers on the personal challenges of a tough, young man with an uncertain future. It’s a fascinating film you won’t soon forget.”
American Son is an excellent movie that takes an intimate look at a newly enlisted Marine’s last 96 hours in California, before he ships off to Iraq.
Nick Cannon plays Mike Holland who meets the beautiful Cristina, played by Melonie Diaz. They meet on the bus into Bakersfield, and although Cristina knows that Mike is a new recruit, she doesn’t realize that he’s shipping off to Iraq in four days. And neither does Mike tell his family and long time friends initially when he returns home.
It seems he just wants to savor his last few days at home, without the pressure of having everyone ask questions about the dangers associated with his deployment.

Mike’s main friend Jake is a loose cannon, who could very well have enlisted in the Marines himself, but I doubt he would have made the grade. He’s a bit off balanced and has a short fuse, but it all might just be a game he’s playing to make himself believe that Nick hasn’t accomplished much by leaving home and enlisting in the military.
Nick is just 19 and hasn’t lived much himself, but you gather that he had to get away from his family.

And as the movie progresses, he and Cristina become closer and as many young kids do, they fall in love. Nick goes to meet her family and manages to get around the language barrier, as she’s a Latina. A surprise twist comes in the movie and seems to haunt Mike: a neighbor of Cristina’s has been off to Iraq and comes back home missing a leg. Mike doesn’t know this, however, when he goes to the guy’s house to just say hello, at the urging of Cristina’s mother. It must have been difficult for Mike to withstand what could very well be a situation that awaits his tour of duty. The ex-Marine wears a t-shirt that says, “I went to Iraq and all I got was crippled.” Pretty heavy stuff for a 19 year old.
Throughout the movie there are flashbacks to when Mike was in basic training, as well as nightmares for him about what might lie ahead.

Cannon plays a role in American Son that allows him to stretch his acting chops. He’s so focused and committed to his life as a new Marine that he’s determined to not let anything stand in his way.
While his relationship with his father, played by Chi McBride, is sort of splintered, as he lives with his mom and her boyfriend, played by Tom Sizemore, Mike’s very protective of his little sister—who just wishes that her big brother could stay home forever.
Just how far young Mike will travel with the Marines is left unsaid, as the movie ends with him sitting at a bus station, after having spent the better part of a day with Cristina at a nearby motel.
He’s leaving her, his family and his friends, who seem to just want to party all the time, and especially Jake, who turns against Nick when he discovers that he’s actually going to Iraq. I’m sure everyone surrounding Nick just wants the best for him, and they are probably fearing the unknown in Iraq, also.

But Nick “mans up,” as the expression goes, and anticipates what’s on the other side of the world for him, after he’s survived 96 hours in the world with which he no longer seems to identify.

Now, finally, it’s just a few hours before the bus comes to take him to situations that will undoubtedly make him a man.
American Son was a Grand Jury Prize Nominee at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and is available on DVD August 25, from Miramax Films. For more information, visit the Web site at www.miramax.com.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.



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