TIFF review: American Son

Christopher Demos-Brown's incendiary play about race and the police gets an awkward, stilted film adaptation

AMERICAN SON SPEC D: Kenny Leon. Sep 12, 6 pm, Winter Garden Sep 13, 3:15 pm, TIFF 1 Sep 14, 9:15 pm, TIFF 3. Rating: NN

Christopher Demos-Brown’s didactic Black Lives Matters drama about a separated mixed-race couple (Kerry Washington and Steven Pasquale) pacing a South Florida police station in the middle of the night, worried about what’s happened to their 18-year-old son, gets an awkward, stilted adaptation that betrays the material’s theatre roots.

Leon, who also directed the play on Broadway (with the same cast), doesn’t offer anything compelling to look at onscreen. And Demos-Brown’s script, although smart in showing the ways white privilege and assumptions can creep into conversations (Jeremy Jordan plays a dim, slightly condescending junior cop), is tasked with parcelling out information about the characters while giving us periodic updates about the police investigation.

While the appearance of a fourth character adds much-needed momentum and another layer in the discussion about race, it comes too late. And Washington, although she got raves for her stage performance, comes across as overdone and underfelt onscreen. Pasquale’s FBI husband is much more effective, and the pair’s conversations about the disintegration of their marriage provide the film with its heart.

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