American Gun (2002)

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Released 4-Dec-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Trailer-Previews - After Sex, Secretary
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 85:50
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Alan Jacobs
Escalon Film Partner
Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring James Coburn
Virginia Madsen
Barbara Bain
Alexandra Holden
Ryan Locke
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Anthony Marinelli

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, minor
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    American Gun is most memorable for containing the final performance of one of cinema's almost-legends. James Coburn (In Like Flint, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid) was never quite a megastar, but certainly knew a few of them. In this film, at the age of seventy-three and evidently suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, he puts in a good, solid performance.

    Penny Tillman (a solid turn by Virginia Madsen, Candyman) returns to her family home in Vermont, to spend the Christmas holiday season with her elderly parents. Her life has not been particularly easy to date, shaped by a teenage pregnancy and an abusive husband. Her daughter Mia (Alexandra Holden) has run away from home and she does not know what has become of her. Life is about to deal her another unfortunate blow, however, when she is mugged and killed in a parking lot while carrying out some Christmas shopping.

    Martin Tillman (Coburn) is distraught over the shooting death of his daughter. He makes it his mission in life to uncover the history of the handgun which was used to kill her and sets off by car and train, around the United States to do just that. Using the serial number from the gun he unearths a trail of events and previous owners which provide a small insight into the role of the gun in American society. The plot appears to have a fairly obvious hole: (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) how he manages to procure the handgun from the police station, but all is resolved by the twist in the final act.

    The film is narrated by Martin as he recounts his discoveries in a series of letters to his dead daughter. Through flashbacks, we get to see both Martin's personal experience with a gun during WWII, and the frequently tragic experiences of the owners of the handgun which killed his only child. Whilst the film is relatively slow-paced, it does manage to hold your interest and features a twist that adds another layer of depth to the plot.

    American Gun is a fairly average movie with an interesting plot twist. Some of the cinematography is quite stylised with frequent scenes shot with a drastically reduced colour palette, but the sepia effects in the WWII scenes do not help convince you that you are watching scenes filmed in 1943 continental Europe. It will sustain your interest for the running time, but will not leave too much of a lasting impression. This is generally worth a rental for a rainy day, but will be essential viewing for fans of the late, almost great, James Coburn. Until researching this review, I had not realised that Coburn was awarded a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance in Affliction - a movie that I have not yet seen. In his final film performance, the man acquits himself nobly with an understated performance.

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Transfer Quality


    The video quality of this transfer is somewhat grainy but acceptable despite a bitrate averaging only 5.5 Mbps.

    The film is presented 16x9 enhanced at 1.78:1 which is not quite the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1.

    The dark scenes show reasonable black levels with a bit of low level noise evident. Shadow detail is generally acceptable. Colours are acceptable, although frequently manipulated in a somewhat heavy-handed manner, with no evidence of colour bleeding. Skin tones are pretty natural throughout.

    There are no significant MPEG artefacts in this video transfer, but there is a small amount of pixelisation in the backgrounds. This is rather a soft, and somewhat grainy transfer so edge enhancement is not evident. Aliasing was the major defect evident on this disc, which is present as a mild shimmer throughout, but which was at times more than a little disturbing (for example on the weatherboards at 5:58, on the house at 19:30 or on the writing at 61:58). Of interest to those with PAL progressive DVD players, viewing the disc in progressive scan reduces aliasing to the point of being largely unnoticeable.

    There are quite a number of film artefacts which crop up from time to time but these are not too distracting. Telecine wobble is evident during the titles and occasionally during the film, although this is only a minor distraction.

    There are no subtitles available on this disc.

    The disc is DVD 5 format so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The audio transfer is adequate for a dialogue-driven piece, but it is frequently very subdued and does need the volume cranked up beyond normal listening levels to provide a satisfactory listening experience.

    The solitary audio track is a Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo) track encoded at 224 kbps. The surround flag is not enabled.

    The sound is generally clean throughout, with no major defects noted. Dialogue is fine with natural sounding voices for the duration and no audio sync problems noticed.

    The original musical score is credited to Anthony Marinelli (15 Minutes) and is not particularly noteworthy. It adds a suitably melancholy note to much of the film, with its sad piano, deep strings (cello possibly) and occasionally haunting Celtic penny whistle, but it is unlikely you will remember it for long after you hit the Off button on the remote.

    The front speakers provide good separation with some panning effects evident (for example at 2:00 during the plane fly-by, or the passing traffic at 51:31), but the soundstage remains fully frontal throughout the film. The surround speakers are missing in action.

    The subwoofer is asked to do nothing by the soundtrack, and manages it in spades.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are almost no extras on the disc.


    The menu is a series of static photographs of characters from the film, accompanied by the theme music. It is 16x9 enhanced in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and allows the selection of playing the movie, choosing one of a paltry twelve chapter stops, or viewing the trailer.


    Presented in a letterboxed 1.78:1 aspect ratio (and therefore not 16x9 enhanced) this trailer runs for 2:37 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack encoded at 224 kbps.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film does not appear to be available on DVD in Region 1. It will be released as a sell-through title in Region 2 on September 15th 2003 but I can find little detail regarding its content. In the absence of information regarding extras on the Region 2 disc, I would suggest you rent the Region 4 release and try before you buy.


    American Gun manages to entertain in an understated way for its relatively short running time (85:50). It tells a mildly interesting story with a nice plot twist toward the end, but is probably most notable as being the last film appearance of James Coburn. Worth a rental for your average film fan, and certainly so for fans of the recently departed star.

    The video quality is acceptable, albeit a little soft and grainy with some annoying aliasing at times.

    The audio transfer is acceptable but uninspiring.

    The extras are negligible.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Sunday, September 07, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDHarmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TX-47P500H 47" Widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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