Set in a waiting room within a police department in Florida, Kendra Ellis Conner (Kerry Washington) is frantic and emotionally concerned. Her 18-year-old son appears to have gone missing after he left home with a group of friends for the night.
While in the waiting room, Kendra has a few interactions with various people. Firstly we find her arguing with and begging for assistance from a local police officer who has little to no helpful information. Kendra tries to calm herself down and provide all the depth of details regarding her son to the officer such as clothing, height etc.
While Kendra is trying to get assistance from the local officer (mostly through arguing and debating) Kendra’s separated husband also joins her in the room, and he too starts to raise questions as to what could have happened to their son. Kendra’s husband is also an FBI agent who might be able to bring some more intel to the stressful situation. During the night, many topics of discussion are had, such as marriage, parenting, race, gender and police procedures.
To my surprise, this entire film is entirely set in one location/set and has a total of 5 actors for the whole of the film’s duration. The film’s story was initially created for and performed as a live stage play. Being a fan of stage work myself, I was naturally curious to see this as a movie as released by Netflix recently.
I loved the film’s setting (aka the room’s look). Not only is it evident that it’s night time, but we see a storm occurring which also brings a bit of tension to the film. The film also takes a mystery to the surface which did have my curiosity until the credits rolled. Other than these two elements, sadly, this is a disappointing experience for movie lovers.
While this story and plot might be entertaining for the stage, but for the camera, there are many issues which cannot hide. One of the biggest issues with the film is the characters. Here they are truly challenging to support as an audience member. For most of the film’s duration, our characters are merely arguing endlessly with one another. In many moments (particularly when they interact with police officers on duty) I just didn’t agree with what I saw. Mostly because it didn’t feel realistic or perhaps the script is merely outdated and needed touching up. Many of the arguments in the film I found to be childish and pointless, not adding to the heart of the story. One example of this is when a police officer mentions that he checked Kendra’s son’s social media accounts and found something which may be helpful. Still, instead we have Kendra mocking the police officer and complaining. Other than the character of Kendra, I found all characters in this film unbelievable.
Apart from weak characters, the shots in this film feel cheap, as if they were done with a handheld camera. Many shots with characters in the frame have multiple shakes as characters are expressing emotion. This type of camera work makes it even more challenging to accept the situation and feel the tension. This is truly a shame as the look and style of the film, even the resolution it’s filmed in, was a positive for me. The only true thing that kept me going to the credits was to find out the film’s ending or see a possible twist. In the end, I rolled my eyes, turned the TV off and let out a giant sigh of annoyance.
Overall, American Son might be a perfect story for the stage, but as a film, it’s an unfortunate misfire. With uninteresting (and unconvincing) characters who prefer to argue for the whole film’s duration rather than give any true meaning or depth, the only thing that kept me going to the end was wanting to know the film’s ending. When the credits rolled, my eyes also rolled, and I said “Yeah, thanks a lot Netflix”…
Thank you for visiting! Walkden Entertainment is also available on:
Review Written by Peter Walkden