Son Of A Gun


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Son Of A Gun
"Proceeds at a languid pace, like a classic Southern yarn, belying its depth of content."

On 7 November 1874, an article appeared in the American Medical Weekly telling a story that would become a legend. The basis of the story, which purported to be about an actual medical case, was that a bullet fired through the testicle of a soldier had hit a woman who happened to standing on a porch, causing her to become pregnant. Unlikely though the notion was, it resonated with a people worn out by the misery of the Civil War and longing for hope and happiness. But where did the story come from? What was the story behind it? In his best film to date, Travis Mills takes the known facts and embellishes them in a three part story that's less about battles an births than it is about America's changing culture and the simple acts of humanity that carried it through some of its worst moments.

The dearth of US filmmakers taking on stories about the South speaks to the discomfort that the whole nation has with this part of its history, and that unwillingness to engage with the past has compounded the problems it faces today. It has also elided the stories of those who suffered under slavery, and although this film might at first appear to have little to do with slavery, the experiences and perspectives of black characters come to play a vital role within it. Mills reminds us that the Civil War era, and the years preceding it, also saw significant constraints placed on the lives of women, limiting their access to information and making their existence precarious should they fail to abide by the rules. In this charged environment, it's often difficult to determine the most ethical course of action - especially for a white man, whose social advantages make it harder for him to gain insight into what's really going on around him.

Cotton Yancey plays Legrand Capers, the doctor identified as the source of that famous journal article, as an older man reflecting on, and fantasising about, the adventures of his youth. Miles Doleac and William Shannon Williams play younger versions of the same character, consistent enough to be recognisable but inviting shifts of perspective. As the tale is told and retold, layers of Southern illusion are stripped back. Whilst the first version may be too gallant and romantic for anyone to take completely seriously, identifying the flaws in the second takes a little more thought, and by the time the third emerges Capers is forced to acknowledge that he, too, failed to grasp the full meaning of what was happening. As the story is, like the Confederate cause, shorn of its glamour, different heroes emerge and different values enable progress just as they did with the binding back together of North and South after the war.

Along the way, the film challenges myths about the war itself, reminding us of the common experiences of soldiers on both sides and of the fact that, rather than taking place of open battlefields, many skirmishes occurred in towns and villages and people's gardens, with civilians uncertain of how to protect themselves. It reflects on the damage done, psychologically, to combatants on both sides, and the sense of dislocation that affected the South as it lost its bearings both socially and economically. These themes are efficiently woven into the whole, which proceeds at a languid pace, like a classic Southern yarn, belying its depth of content.

The intriguing premise gives this film natural audience appeal and sets up expectations that it would be easy to fall short of. Not only has Mills avoided this, he has created an equally intriguing drama about the stories that America tells itself.

Reviewed on: 24 Jun 2019
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An exploration of the legend that a woman was impregnated by a bullet during the US Civil War.

Director: Travis Mills

Writer: Travis Mills

Starring: Miles Doleac, Cotton Yancey, Jessica Harthcock, Lindsay Anne Williams, Holly Bonney

Year: 2019

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: US


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