American Son is a Broadway play that has made the transition to film, with only four characters, it stars Kerry Washington (Fantastic 4, Django Unchained), Steven Pasquale (Rescue Me, AVP: Requiem), Jeremy Jordan (The Flash, Supergirl) and Eugene Lee (The Crumbles).
I’ve always liked Washington, how can you not? And I’ve always tended to check out Pasquale’s work too, since he finished up on Rescue Me (great show, great characters, great acting), so I was pretty excited to see this one. Washington and Pasquale star as Kenya and Scott, the parents of the visually absent Jamal (although he’s never far from your heart) as they try to get information from the police station about their son, from the ‘I’m new here’ guy, Officer Larkin, played by Jeremy Jordan. The three of them wait for Eugene Lee’s Lt. John Stokes to arrive with more information on the incident that Jamal was supposedly involved in.
Washington is powerful here, a flawless performance. Reprising the role she held when it was a Broadway play, she is faultless. Delivering lengthy dialogue with ease, she outpours emotions like she was experiencing the situation her character was in for real, but given how real the situation in this film is, Washington finding the emotions to play this role surely would not be hard. Pasquale, also reprising his role from the play, is equally as good, refined, calm, collected, ever the emotionless, but proud and sure father. Jordan as Officer Larkin is good too, trying to keep his cool with the sometimes-hostile parents, you can see his frustration matches theirs. Eugene Lee, while he doesn’t hurt the film, gives the weakest performance, I felt he just didn’t deliver his lines with enough authority.
But this film is more than a suspenseful drama.
It’s an intricate exploration into interracial relationships.
Kerry Washington the black, worried mother, with an intimate, personal understanding of the challenges that people of color face, and Pasquale playing the white, headstrong, sure of himself, calm and collected, color-blind father. Tensions between the two rise, simmer then boil as they talk about their points of view – whose fault this is, whose fault that was. It also explores the tensions between African American’s and law enforcement as well, the script ensuring that Pasquale’s character is late to the scene. Giving the scared mother and Jordan’s Officer Larkin time alone, so the viewer can witness the discomfort the two have dealing with each other. Once Jamal’s father arrives, Larkin is often caught in the middle while suffering severe foot-in-mouth disease, but he does his best to calm the tense situation. Trying his best to be nice, it’s never good enough, we hear everyone’s points of view on the situation though. Lt. Stokes no-nonsense brand does nothing to relieve the situation either, arresting Jamal’s FBI Agent father almost instantly for battery, after a small scrap breaks out due to the high level of frustration being experienced by the scared parents.
Stokes, an African American officer, says everything to Kendra that a white officer can’t. Giving her a ‘wake-up call’, and telling her that her efforts as a parent, in teaching Jamal to stand up for his rights, were wrong, because when pulled over by a cop, he has no rights.
American Son has great performances, but it’s just so risk free, trying hard not to exploit any one demographics emotions – ensuring everyone listens and gets it’s message.
While its skilfully written by Christopher Demos-Brown, covering everyone’s points of view, calmly and civilly, leaving no stone unturned, it’s also the film’s biggest low-point. The dialogue is sharp and well-performed, but by using only Jamal’s unknown whereabouts to keep the audience captivated as it tries to teach lessons about social issues – as frictionless as possible, it lacks any kind of dramatic fallout. It plays it far too safe.
If there was one film that could be play the devil’s advocate to, well, everyone who has an opinion, American Son would surely be it.