Director: MICAH VAN HOVE Run Time: 89 Minutes
Shadow of a Gun seems to have taken the concept of ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ to a new level by employing it long before any acts have transpired. The title alone addresses the object’s inevitable use; henceforth from its introduction audience members know and expect a gun to be fired at some point and Van Hove harnesses that expectation and its anticipation as a current of tension that flows throughout. It is all a matter of how/when and Van Hove appears to be toying with the circumstances of that ultimate revelation.
The screenplay from Jeffrey Reeser (from a story initiated by Van Hove and his two leads – Dominic Pino and Jacob King) centers on guns and gun owners; the responsible and the not-so-responsible owners of AR variants, specifically. The film foregoes the low-hanging fruit of condemnation and, instead, offers a nuanced narrative that seems to question who should be able to own these guns and how best to ensure that they reside in the hands of responsible individuals.
Instead of an act, or its aftermath, the film turns its’ focus on the genesis and the potential lead-up. Not content with small victories nor does it operate within a self-congratulatory mode full of simple criticisms, Shadow of a Gun focuses on two individuals – Tom and Jason (played by Dominic Pino and Jacob King, respectively) – who develop a friendship over firearms with Tom ultimately deciding to help Jason build his very own AR-10 from scratch.
For the viewer, this is easily seen as a bad decision given the fact that the viewer is privy to Jason’s more insidious acts and interactions whereas Tom remains mostly shielded from Jason’s questionable behavior. Although, the erratic behavior does slowly encroach upon Tom’s days but at a point in which he is perhaps far too committed; where a change of mind could potentially exacerbate and accelerate a dangerous outcome. Even all of the behaviors witnessed from Jason where to be brought to light to all those involved with helping him obtain his new firearm would they have had any bearing on the original outcome. Would it have stopped Jason from owning a semi-automatic rifle in the first place?
Given the dire circumstances of our current collective atmosphere regarding semi-automatic rifles, I’m sure some will be dismissive given Van Hove’s decision to center a protagonist that is by all accounts a responsible gun owner. Not only a responsible gun owner but one who’s favorite gun happens to an AR-15 but when watching Tom respectfully care for and operate his weapon with his level of attentiveness it is difficult to say that he shouldn’t be able to own one (still, honestly, no one should be able to own one).
Jacob King’s performance is the film’s driving force; he embodies a specific kind of toxic masculinity, the disaffected youth personality stuck in a state of arrested development, an apathetic do-nothing that seems to gain sustenance from testing the patience of others through antagonizing and harassing. His actions are a procession of red flags mostly visible only to the audience as he slowly descends into abject resentment and entitlement. It is an unpredictable villain role that King maneuvers through well.
Much like Menthol, and maybe even more so, Shadow of a Gun is in many ways a predictable film yet somehow manages to be simultaneously unpredictable. The outline of a conflict is established from the beginning and with the film’s small ensemble, the perpetrator and his instrument is quite clear although the specifics of said conflict and the way in which it all plays out still maintains a level of uncertainty. Van Hove routinely skirts around this evitable culmination in a way that increases the tensions being built up throughout.
Unlike Van Hove’s debut, Menthol, however, Shadow of a Gun does stumble down the length of its final stretch as Jason’s actions reach an ominous peak and then tailspin out of character, in a sense. Perhaps my pessimistic tendencies were insurmountable but where and how Jason leaves things at the end, considering his gradually loosening grip on acceptable behaviors, come off as improbable and ultimately disjointed from the rest of the film; yet the film had, up until then, built up enough goodwill to lessen the shortcoming.