In 2008, the film "AMERICAN SON", directed by Neil Abramson ("Defining Maggie", "Without Air") and screenwriter Eric Schmid submitted their film to the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for the "Grand Jury Prize". The film eventually was picked up by MIRAMAX films and now makes its DVD debut.
The film stars Nick Cannon (husband of Mariah Carey and appeared on the show "All That", "Men in Black II" and "Drumline") as Mike Holland, a 19-year-old who wanted to do something with his life but with no money to pay for college, elected to join the US Marines. After completing boot camp, the young soldier is told that his squadron will be sent to Iraq and have a 4-day vacation (96 hours) before leaving.
So, Mike decides to use his 96 hours and go back home to Bakersfield, California. While on the bus, Mike meets Cristina (Melonie Diaz, "Nip/Tuck", "Be Kind Rewind", "Feel the Noise"), a college student who is also returning to Bakersfield to meet with her family. Immediately spending time at the bus, Mike becomes smitten with her and manages to get her phone number.
When Mike arrives home, he is greeted by his good friend Jake (Matt O'Leary, "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation", "Live Free or Die Hard" and the "Spy Kids" films) who is happy to be reunited with his buddies and plan for a night out with friends in celebration of Mike's return home.
Mike meets with his own family members which include his mother Donna (April Grace, "The Nine", "I Am Legend" and "Ghost Whisperer"), his step father Dale (Tom Sizemore, "Crash", "Black Hawk Down", "Pearl Harbor"), his little sister Tricia (Erica Gluck) and also his real father Eddie (Chi McBride, "The Nine", "Boston Public" and "Pushing Daisies") and all the while he spends family time, he does not mention to them that he's being sent to Iraq. All they know is that he's home for a few days.
While Mike spends time with family and friends, he also finds time to spend with Cristina. The both hit it off so well that he is introduced to her family (which her father is not so supportive of because he wants her to finish up college and not be hooked on a guy) and eventually enjoys his time with her.
But Cristina makes a request to Mike and that is to visit a family friend named Junior (Jay Hernandez, "Six Degrees", "Friday Night Lights" and "Lakeview Terrace") who was a Marine but as injured in Iraq and lost his leg.
Cristina hopes that Mike can help with Junior's depression but after Junior finds out that Mike has the same type of job, same type of squadron, he insists that Mike will definitely go to Iraq. But Mike lies to Cristina that he isn't going to Iraq.
The film "AMERICAN SON" is about the fears of a young soldier, like many young soldiers who join the military in order to find themselves or to get a paying job but soon discover that going to Iraq, you worry if you will ever come back alive. For Mike, he knows that the US Marines have given him a job but now returning home, meeting a wonderful young woman and to see how much his family and friends care for him, he knows that if he never comes back from Iraq, he needs to make things right.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
"AMERICAN SON" is presented in Widescreen 1:85:1 (Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions). For the most part, "AMERICAN SON" features cinematography by Kris Kachikis which didn't always involve an elaborate setup, just handling of the camera on a bus, in a home or section in Bakersfield and really, no sets or anything in a Hollywood big budget type of sense. But for the most part, the film is well captured on film and really good stylistic choices in capturing that lifestyle and area of where Mike once lived. Granted, filming in a certain area of Bakersfield is not the focal point but it's about covering that genuine emotion on the faces of Mike, his family and friends. You do get a breathtaking scene with Mike and Cristina at Pismo Beach, which was cool to see. Overall, picture quality and cinematography for this film on DVD is good as with the editing.
As for the audio, the film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. "AMERICAN SON" is primarily a dialogue-driven film. So, a viewer can expect the sounds coming from the front and center channels while there are some use of surround sounds with Jake's revving of the engines of his vehicle to a stage where Mike and Jake go to the junkyard and shoot at targets. But other than that, aside from the hip hop soundtrack, the film is a dialogue-driven film and for the most part, dialogue is understandable and clear.
Subtitles for the film are in Spanish.
"AMERICAN SON" includes the following special features:
* Audio Commentary by Director Neil Abramson and Producers Daniell Renfrew and Michael Roiff - Commentary for the film is pretty good. Especially if you are a film student as the three are really good at setting up the scenes and how they were able to accomplish certain shots. Also, intriguing is during a fight scene, in real life, Nick Cannon accidentally elbows Percy Daggs III (who plays his friend Shawn) and Percy was bleeding a lot and how Nick who felt so badly, bought him a get well present.
* Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary - Two deleted scenes with commentary are included such as "Beach Talk-Extended" (2:08) and "Be Safe" (1:07).
* On Leave in Bakersfield: Behind the Scenes of American Son - (11:37) This featurette details the 20 days of filming and shows us clips from various "making-of" segments of the film from arriving to Bakersfield to shoot, seeing the talent act to the final day shooting. Also, interviews with some of the talent of the film.
"AMERICAN SON" is an emotional, gripping and intriguing story about a young soldier who signed up for the military, not to fight a war but to get away from bad influences (since his brother who had a promising life got caught up with narcotics and became hardcore drug addict) and make some money. But during the 96 hours before he leaves to Iraq, chooses not to worry anyone and realizes for himself that he has a lot to live for and people who care for him but knowing that going to Iraq, he may never come back.
This a story that many soldiers face and the film could have been political but it never goes that direction. The film pretty much focuses on a guy who tries to hold everything in and not worry his family and friends about him going to Iraq but of course, the pain he feels knowing that in 96 hours, he has found a young woman he cares about but knows that his happiness is only temporary.
It's a film that is very natural. Especially during a scene when Mike has to meet a marine who didn't fare so well in Iraq and despite the discipline he learned in the Marines, there is still fear of the unknown.
For the most part, the film was well-directed and Nick Cannon and Melonie Diaz definitely had working chemistry and again, everything felt natural and makes the viewer feel that you know someone like Nick, Cristina and the various characters of the film. And I wouldn't doubt that many viewers probably know someone who is in the military and has fought in Iraq or have heard of the many stories of families in anguish when they hear of a love one who died in the Middle East or those fortunate to come back to their families and have survived the ordeal.
"AMERICAN SON" is an entertaining film that doesn't need to involve politics or the negative aspect of war or even the promoting why we are at war. It is simply a true to human nature type of film that captures genuine emotion of a young soldier, the people who care for him and doesn't give off the feeling that this is some Hollywood military film. It's a film that doesn't need exotic shooting locations nor does need a ton of action, it's a film based on emotion and fortunately, the talent in the film pulled off their emotional scenes quite well.
I did enjoy the film and the DVD features a good amount of features to keep fans of the films glued to the TV set for another hour after watching the film. Granted, "AMERICAN SON" is one of those films that I can't foresee myself watching again and again but I did enjoy it.
Overall, "AMERICAN SON" definitely is deserving of a recommendation!