Movie Review: ‘Gun’ Is An Admirable Directorial Debut For Sam Upton

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

When we first meet Joe Romano (Sam Upton, who also writes and directs) he hasn’t had a good day in quite some time. A washed-up former fighter turned alcoholic and ostracized from his family, Joe isn’t even allowed in the room to pump up his son, Tommy “Gun” Romano (Jared Abrahamson) – now a star boxer in his own right- before matches. However, the bout that opens Gun is made unique by more than Joe’s drunken antics: Tommy’s opponent is using tampered gloves. The lopsided fight leaves Tommy blinded but buoyant, insisting to doctors with all-too-recognizable pluck that he’ll overcome this setback and become a champion once more. Unfortunately, as is often the way with these sorts of things, redemption does not come as easily as our hero hopes.

Here Gun introduces an interesting wrinkle to the familiar “defeated fighter seeks rematch” trope. Instead of Tommy re-entering the ring, it’s his father who demands old scores be settled the old-fashioned way. He just has to get sober first. Aiding him in that endeavor is his long-lost friend Jimmy (Mark Boone Junior), a fellow with scruffy grey hair and a beard to match, whose incongruous penchant for quoting Marcus Aurelius and Napoleon feels reminiscent of Monty Python’s “Coal Miners of Wales” skit. When they first run into one another he explains to Joe the difference between a hedonist- one who will do “whatever it takes to feel good”- and a stoic- one who will “do what’s right, no matter how they feel”. It’s clear which he thinks his friend is now, and which he hopes Joe might become. The transformation required for Joe to emerge victorious is not just physical then, but philosophical as well. (And yes, inspirational montages are provided for both.)

With the exception of some unnecessary slow-motion during the final confrontation, this is an admirable feature-length directorial debut for Upton. His performance as Joe channels some of Matthew McConaughey’s characteristic manic energy, capturing both the volatile and somewhat pathetic nature of a man equal parts unwilling to and incapable of changing his circumstances. One criticism of his script is that it does not give Cassi Thomson and Kate Vernon (as Tommy’s pregnant wife and his mother, respectively) nearly enough to do. Both women respond to the men’s struggles with grace and strength yet, with the exception of a brief phone conversation, we’re never given any insight into how this turbulent period affects them personally.

Instead we’re treated to an abundance of scenes emphasizing the depths to which Joe has sunk, and this is where the middle of the film starts to sag. More interesting vignettes lurk at the screenplay’s edges: does Joe’s continued presence cause any tension between his ex-wife and her new husband? Why did Tommy’s opponent want to cause so much damage in the first place? Do Tommy and his wife worry about the possible involvement of Joe in their child’s life? Sadly these and other questions are never asked, much less answered. By the time the finale arrives, much of the tension established in the film’s opening minutes has petered out.

What results is a competent retread of familiar ground: fresh enough to hold your attention through the running time, but unlikely to linger once you’ve left the theater. Fans of the boxing sub-genre of sports dramas will doubtless appreciate this new entry. Others may find that Gun misfires one too many times to be truly memorable.

Gun is playing at film festivals around the country.

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