×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Under the Gun’

Stephanie Soechtig's follow-up to 'Fed Up' could've used the same title in its stance on gun control in the U.S.

With:
Mark Barden, Jackie Barden, Pamela Bosley, Shannon Watts, Richard Martinez, Sandy Phillips, Lonnie Phillips, Gabrielle Gifford, Mark Kelly, Victoria Montgomery, Michael Pfleger, Mark Follman, William Vizzard, Robyn Thomas, Tom Diaz, Michael Waldman, Richard Feldman, Robin Kelly. Narrator: Katie Couric.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5275886/

Cutting through political talking points to focus on facts and firsthand accounts, “Under the Gun” is an essential primer on the rise of gun violence in the U.S. With this follow-up to the food-industry takedown “Fed Up,” director Stephanie Soechtig again proves her knack for crafting advocacy docs that resonate. One of four films in this year’s Sundance lineup to deal explicitly with mass shootings, “Gun” acknowledges the solutions to this ongoing problem are neither easy nor obvious, while persuasively arguing that more, surely, can be done. With the right handling, the passionate pic could easily surpass “Fed Up’s” solid $1.5 million domestic gross.

Like its predecessor, “Under the Gun” potently combines statistics, expert commentary and personal stories into a well-researched and easy-to-consume piece of nonfiction filmmaking. It’s not necessarily artful, but it’s also never less than compelling. If anything, Soechtig has only refined her skills at packaging a slick, audience-friendly documentary with a subject that feels even more urgent.

The core frustration fueling this film is one shared by many Americans: Even after an event as horrific as the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the U.S. Congress demonstrated its complete impotence in dealing with the issue. When a popular bill mandating near-universal background checks on gun purchases died in the Senate, it was a wake-up call for many. The steady pace of mass shootings since has only underscored the urgency of finding grassroots solutions to the problem.

Sandy Hook parents Mark and Jackie Barden, who lost their youngest son, Daniel, in the shooting (and are also featured in Kim A. Snyder’s more elegiac Sundance premiere, “Newtown”), are the first among many family members of gun-violence victims profiled by Soechtig and returning “Fed Up” narrator-host-exec producer Katie Couric. There’s more than just tragedy uniting the diverse group — from urban Chicago mother Pamela Bosley, whose son is one of numerous black youths in the city whose murders remain unsolved, to conservative gun owners Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter Jessica was killed at the 2012 movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. Each of these grieving parents has been rallied into action, and seeing their stories may have a similar effect on viewers.

Again and again, the film’s boogeyman is the National Rifle Assn. Soechtig is careful to draw a distinction between the lobbying org’s leadership, who have close ties to gun manufacturers and actively work to block the most common-sense attempts at gun regulation, and the rank-and-file membership, who are presented as more supportive of responsible measures (like background checks) in national polls and man-on-the-street interviews.

While “Under the Gun” is firmly on the side of stronger gun regulations, it’s not anti-gun. There’s an attempt to be as inclusive as possible, and time taken to explain why common refrains by the opposition — that certain government leaders want to take away everyone’s guns, the real problem is about mental health and not guns, or that the only way to prevent gun violence is to own a gun — are easier said than defended with factual information.

But the goal here isn’t to change minds; it’s to reignite the anger of the silent majority — those familiar feelings that bubble up and then dissipate whenever another mass shooting occurs. “Under the Gun” understands the typical cycle of shock, outrage, hopelessness and complacency that follows such events in the 24-hour news cycle and aims to channel those initial instincts into action.

By focusing on the specific (and frequently heartbreaking) stories of the aforementioned parents, former Congresswoman and gun-violence survivor Gabrielle Giffords, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts — who was motivated to action by Newtown and unwittingly sparked a grassroots movement on Facebook — the film lays out the gaping holes in the system where regulations are needed, and offers hopeful examples of activism in the face of what often feels like an insurmountable problem.

Film Review: 'Under the Gun'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Documentary Premieres), Jan. 26, 2016. Running time: 110 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) An Atlas Films presentation. Produced by Olivia Ahnemann, Joshua Kunau, Kristin Lazure, Stephanie Soechtig. Executive producers, Katie Couric, Regina Scully, Michelle Walrath, Michael Walrath.

Crew: Directed by Stephanie Soechtig. Written by Brian Lazarte, Mark Monroe, Soechtig. Camera (color, HD), Josh Salzman; editor, Brian Lazarte; music, Brian Tyler; music supervisor, Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe; supervising sound editors/re-recording mixers, Tim Chau, Matt Vowles; associate producer, Carly Palmour.

With: Mark Barden, Jackie Barden, Pamela Bosley, Shannon Watts, Richard Martinez, Sandy Phillips, Lonnie Phillips, Gabrielle Gifford, Mark Kelly, Victoria Montgomery, Michael Pfleger, Mark Follman, William Vizzard, Robyn Thomas, Tom Diaz, Michael Waldman, Richard Feldman, Robin Kelly. Narrator: Katie Couric.

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content