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Good Guy with a Gun (2023): Film Review

Good Guy with a Gun asks relevant questions about gun violence and attempts to answer them, but the ideas in the film are more thought-provoking than the execution.

Director John Mossman’s Good Guy with a Gun will soon hold its exclusive Chicago premiere at the Midwest Film Festival. The film comments on the continuous catastrophe of gun violence, specifically in the United States, by telling the story of a young man affected by a gun-related tragedy. Despite some interesting twists and turns, and some genuine attempts at starting a dialogue, Good Guy with a Gun ultimately struggles to tackle its important subject matter due to a thin plot and lazy characterizations.

The film follows high schooler Will Greenwood (Beck Nolan) and his mother, Tessa (Tiffany Bedwell), after Will’s father (Joe Swanberg) is shot dead in the streets of Chicago. While visiting a small town for a couple of weeks, the mother-son duo becomes strained as Will makes new friends and is introduced to gun culture. The emotional crux centers on this relationship, as both mother and son are grieving and deal with said grief in different ways. Nolan and Bedwell’s performances when acting opposite each other draw in the audience and give a reminder of the emotional and intellectual depth this film could have achieved.

Mossman’s obvious passion for the topic of gun violence serves as another strength. There are moments where the film reveals several truths, including how flippantly and recklessly people treat the issue of guns, the Second Amendment, and violence. Will’s friends often make comments and jokes about the use of guns, something that feels like an ever-present reality in some areas of the country. Mossman also successfully directs the young actors into feeling like real small-town kids who are trying to figure out who they are. “You’re a good guy,” says Will’s friend Jonah (Jack Cain) towards the film’s conclusion. Mossman’s thesis seems to be this: that people are generally good, and that gun violence – and other contemporary issues – can be solved by recognizing the good in everyone and the complexity of each situation.

loud and clear reviews Good Guy with a Gun 2023 film review movie
Beck Nolan and Tiffany Bedwell in Good Guy with a Gun (Amarok Productions)

Despite some generally good moments and great cinematography from Christopher Lane (especially the shots of the rural landscapes), Good Guy with a Gun suffers from a script that is ultimately unable to weave its complex issues into a satisfying narrative. The dialogue is often stilted, leaving conversations feeling awkward and inauthentic. The film also struggles to find its footing early on, with the drama in the back half salvaging a lackluster first half. While Will and Tessa feel like real, complicated characters, the rest of the townsfolk come across as underwritten tropes. The drama is often undercut by a poorly written supporting character delivering an uninspiring, wooden line of dialogue.

The two main antagonists (played by Dan Waller and Mossman himself), are the most egregious examples of the undercooked quality. In a film attempting to provide nuance and complexity, these two villains are nothing more than mustache-twirling jerks to the main characters. These flaws too seriously deflate the ambitious attempt to provide a nuanced look into several current sociopolitical matters.

Good Guy with a Gun not only comments on the horrors of gun violence but also attempts to draw an honest look at several other social issues and the different “sides” that people take. However, it buckles under its own weight due to some thinly written characters and moments that seem to counteract the film’s main goal: to start a nuanced conversation about a real issue in American society.

Good Guy with a Gun will have its Chicago Premiere at the Midwest Film Festival on February 27, 2023.

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