Toronto 2019: American Son

Kerry Washington as Kendra Ellis-Connor in American Son. Courtesy of TIFF.

American Son makes the transition from the stage to screen with a powerful performance from Kerry Washington while still feeling theatrical in scale.

Kendra Ellis-Connor (Kerry Washington) is a worried mother.  Her son, Jamal, has been missing for a few hours.  As she sits in the Miami police state, the anger begins to start flowing.  How is a mother expected to stay calm when the calms hardly tell her anything.  Forget a missing persons report because there’s no writing such a report until so many hours have passed.

When we meet Kendra, the first officer to speak with her is Officer Paul Larkin (Jeremy Jordan).  He’s not helpful all that much because, again, he doesn’t have access to the information she wants.  Moreover, he informs her that the AM Public Affairs Liasion Lt. John Stokes (Eugene Lee) will be arriving soon.  Stokes is the person who can tell her what’s happening.  The thing about Officer Larkin is that he’s a white guy.  He’s not in a position to even know what’s going on in Kendra’s head.  While Kendra is breaking down at the water fountain, a white FBI agent arrives at the station.  Noticing the badge on Scott Connor (Steven Pasquale), Larkin answers all the necessary questions.  What Larkin doesn’t know is that Scott is Kendra’s ex-husband.

This is one of those films that makes the audience–especially white/lighter-skinned members–think about their own privilege while viewing the film.  I went into this film knowing hardly anything about it other than it was based on the Broadway play.  All I knew going into the film was the synopsis.  Going into the film blind may be to your benefit but it’s up to you, really.

As we get introduced to new characters, it really begins to change the dynamics.  The big thing here is how Larkin treats Scott and Kendra differently from each other before knowing their relationship.  On top of this, we get to see the relationship through two different eyes.  Both Kendra and Scott have differing points of views.  Scott has no idea what’s going through his son’s head–and that certainly makes for some of the most important conversations in the film.

The transition from stage to film is one that benefits the story.  It’s a minimal cast and the story wraps up in an hour and a half.  Yes, the film feels very theatrical but it’s not to the detriment of the story at all.

American Son is an eye-opening film that ought to make audiences think after viewing it.

DIRECTOR:  Kenny Leon
SCREENWRITER:  Christopher Demos-Brown
CAST:  Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale, Jeremy Jordan, and Eugene Lee

American Son holds its world premiere during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program. Netflix will launch on November 1, 2019. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.