A Knockout of a Naturalistic Romance
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I loved this film! Wow, this is the real deal, straight up naturalism at its best! Written, directed, shot, acted and produced with a overwhelming amount of understated talent. What a thrill to watch a small story get told with a focused intensity that leaves you breathless and simply in awe of the power of watching actors give honest, direct performances.Not one second of this film felt off or untrue, the locations of Bakersfield, the young background extras, the dialogue, the low-key performances, a script that hits every beat, and a camera that is always in the right place for the right amount of time. The story is about a young African American Marine Mike (Nick Cannon) who has a ninety-six hour leave before shipping to Iraq. On the Greyhound bus on his way home at the start of his leave, he meets beautiful ’shorty’ Cristina, (Melonie Diaz). Their relationship moves slowly but with an intensity of true young love. It is the beats in this relationship that are so well written, directed and acted that carries you along in this classic love story. The story is very similar to Vincent Minnelli’s 1945 drama The Clock and, just like that film, this tale of young love is told with an understated realism that creeps up on you moment by moment as the clock ticks.
Mike hasn’t told anyone that at the end of his ninety-six hours he will ship directly to Iraq. He carries this secret with him until the climax of the film and it is this secret that gives the film its power. We know we are watching what might be this smart and funny young man’s last hours on earth and that makes it simply heartbreaking. This is a case where a non-partisan position on the War is earned and appropriate. Unlike last year’s Grace is Gone, the unbiased perspective on the war here is realistic and organic to the characters, it’s not a conceptual sales strategy. One scene has Mike meeting a former Marine that is Christina’s neighbor. The Vet is an early morning drinker jumping around on one leg, the two Marines hug and the Vet starts to cry, the camera goes to Mike’s face and we feel his panic, fear and confusion. It’s an amazing scene shot simply, but it completely nails the power of a character staring at his potential future. Mike squirms in the Vet’s bear hug as if it were his own ghost grabbing him. The film is full of scenes like this, all the more awe inspiring in that it was shot in only eighteen days.
This is how straight up naturalism can work best. Talented director Neil Abramson has knocked this classic romance out of the park. Hollywood hasn’t done a realistic romance like American Son in a very long time. If I were a distributor I would be on this film in a second.
— Mike S. Ryan
(American Son is currently without distribution.)