Set in the waiting room of a police station, 'American Son' stars Kerry Washington as the lead. Kendra Ellis-Connor and her estranged husband, Scott Connor (Steven Pasquale) become increasingly agitated as they await news of what happened to their missing teenage son.
In 'American Son', Netflix sets itself the sensitive and difficult task of exploring issues around race. This is made apparent from the opening quote - "Race is the child of racism, not the father". The task proves too monumental for the streaming service as what they produce is something reactionary for the sake of it and so utterly disingenuous it's quite grotesque.
Washington, who people will know from 'Django Unchained' and 'Scandal' delivers a forceful performance. Unfortunately, while her talents as an actress are apparent, her character is difficult to sympathise with as she comes off as unreasonable. Jeremy Jordan is a good fit as Officer Larkin. As for Pasquale, he's putting in such a soap-like performance that he feels like he's in a different movie. His character is quite a jerk, but you also feel bad for him as Kendra is so angry. Moreover, she often contradicts herself, which is just maddening. As Kendra and Scott fight about their son, it feels melodramatic and forced, inorganic. At one point it tries to be romantic and comes off as painfully cringey.
The confusion makes sense as 'American Son' feels like a TV movie in its stress on drama drama drama. With all the exposition in the script and single setting, its origins as a theatrical production are obvious. But you wonder how it even worked on the stage.
There's so much aggression and shouting throughout the conversations it leaves you with a headache. Some provocative talking points are raised, for example, there are two drinking fountains down the hall from when the building used to be segregated, while elsewhere the husband suggests "I just don't think that lecturing these people on black lives matter is going to help - let's try catching flies with honey". But it mostly feels ranty and directionless.
Its primary issue is that it feels like it's trying to bring up every instance of racism ever without going anywhere. It's just going around in circles, yelling about how horrible a place the world is. One doesn't want to blame the actors so much as the writing and direction which is rambly and ineffective. Regardless of who's to blame it's a totally missed opportunity to start some real conversations.