Jeremy Kagan’s gun-control drama “Shot” opens with a bullet piercing a man’s back. There’s a problem. The bang should be louder. So sound mixer Mark (Noah Wyle) hits rewind, and as the squib rushes back inside the actor’s cowboy costume, he cranks up the bass. That’s how ammo blasts, thinks Mark. But in a few hours, a stray shot will teach him that real-life gunfire is nothing like the movies. (For one, the pop! sounds more hollow.)
Kagan’s intimate, split-screen study of the after effects of violence tracks both the victim and the shooter, a guilt-ridden teen named Miguel (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.). The kid’s story is too clichéd to let “Shot” sell itself as emotional realism, but 2nd Amendment advocates arming themselves against a Hollywood screed will be relieved that the film avoids political activism to focus on trauma and recovery.
The split-screen starts when Miguel, a bullied boy whose sole social sin appears to be reading cooking magazines, accidentally fires his cousin’s pistol. The bullet zips across Silver Lake Blvd. and straight into Mark’s chest as he wheedles his ex-wife Phoebe (Sharon Leal) for a second chance. The divided image is a jolt — Kagan seems inspired by Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out,” which also starred a sound tech startled by actual blood — but what’s onscreen is oddly, deliberately banal. Medics move in, cart Mark away and calmly mutter instructions about immobilizing his neck, probing his wound and inflating his lungs.
Kagan (“The Journey of Natty Gann”) and screenwriters Anneke Campbell and Will Lamborn draw out the gunshot’s effects in real time. (It takes a hospital clerk exactly 29 minutes to ask about Mark’s health insurance, the closest thing to a joke “Shot” allows.) While “ER” fans might thrill to see Wyle back in an emergency room after 15 years of playing Dr. John Carter — and this hospital’s staff is just as photogenic — the stand-out in this sequence is veteran actor Xander Berkeley as the dispassionate, but confident lead physician, and an extended cameo from Malcolm-Jamal Warner playing an ambulance physician who calmly vows that Mark won’t die on his watch.
Still, the gimmick does little for Lendeborg’s arc as a panicky kid trying to figure out his best move. He spends much of the film on the bus, or walking up endless flights of Echo Park’s outdoor stairs. Kagan has good intentions for the character — he’s using Miguel to argue that gun crimes aren’t as simple as black and white, or as Berkeley’s casually bigoted doctor snipes, Latino gang-bangers versus white bystanders. “Shot” aims straight at the idea that good people do harm by accident, and the irony that the first thing Mark wants to do when he gets home is buy a gun. Still, Kagan’s efforts to represent the real Los Angeles make him stumble straight into stereotypes, like the way Miguel and his mom (Cher Ferreyra) continually talk about eating carnitas, quesadillas and jalapeños, and every minor character is forced to tongue-tangle with a clunkers like, “We’re gonna go see Raoul and the vatos,” pronounced to rhyme with “lactose.”
The larger issue is that the dual images don’t fit together in any way, except for Mark and Miguel’s shared fear that their lives are over. To “Shot’s” credit, the film doesn’t believe in happy endings — at least, not before both men, and Leal’s wide-eyed wife, force us to recognize the painful steps of their climb back to normalcy: the anti-anxiety meds, the support groups, the nightmares, the resentments and the regrets. In action, it’s a little dull, but the concept is bracingly honest. Audiences have plenty of action options like Mark’s gruesome Westerns — the bloodthirsty deserve to watch at least one movie about the bullets that can’t be rewound.