An American Story” might have been an examination of the difficulties of re-acclimation to life back home by a group of returning WWII G.I.s. Instead, it dilutes itself into a beautifully shot (by Johnny E. Jensen) but tritely scripted (John Gray) melodrama, as opposed to the drama viewers have come to expect from Hall of Fame.
A small Texas town provides the backdrop for this story focusing on three buddies–George Meade (Brad Johnson), Jesse Meadows (Tom Sizemore) and Juan Medina (David Labiosa).
The three struggle with their consciences and convictions, and with the civil corruption perpetrated upon the community by its “big boss” mayor Tom Cantrell (G.W. Bailey) and his henchman Sheriff McMillan (John M. Jackson). In order to end Cantrell’s crooked dominance, Jesse organizes an all-vet ticket for the upcoming election.
The script is overloaded with conflicts: The vets against corruption; Jesse’s sense of inadequacy due to his war wound; Jesse’s feelings as his wife (exquisitely played by Lisa Blount) runs their factory better than he ever did; George’s struggle to find himself and decide whether to run as Cantrell’s lackey or on the slim-hope slate of the vets; Juan’sdisillusionment at the fact that, though a hero, he can’t get a job because of prejudice.
The overambitious script lacks focus, and while it attempts to say much, it actually says very little.
The presentation lacks precision under writer-director Gray. Call it nitpicking, but while all the characters were born in the same town, their dialects vary from G.W. Bailey’s drawl, which is laid on with a shovel, to Johnson’s total absence of accent.
Sizemore evokes a degree of empathy, but the impact is diminished as the actor, not the character, loses control. As Johnson’s cold-fish, opportunistic wife, Patricia Clarkson performs adequately, as does Labiosa as the mistreated Medina; however, both roles are two-dimensional.
Bailey’s Cantrell is a caricature of corrupt Southern politicians. Johnson’s performance substitutes softness for angst, thereby never realizing the agony of his decision.
Aside from Blount’s precise turn, there are two particularly noteworthy performances. Dante D’Andre is moving as the Latino father who strives to understand the choices of his son (Labiosa), while Josef Sommer’s subtle transition from establishment lawyer to George’s supportive father is detailed with fine brush strokes.
In the way it introduces so many characters and conflicts, “An American Story” appears more a series pilot than a special. The entire vidpic softens its intent, as gauze softens a photograph. Unfortunately, there are only so many layers that can be employed before all definition dissolves.