At Least Good Guy with a Gun Hits the Target

Tiffany Bedwell and Beck Nolan as Tessa and Will Greenwood in Good Guy with a Gun (2023)

Subtle as a shotgun, Good Guy with a Gun takes aim at a serious issue. Efforts to offer nuanced characters keep the film from becoming a polemic, and a quality cast helps the story have authenticity. Yet, the movie’s messaging is sometimes tripped up by its own storytelling, especially when it shifts gears for suspense.

Following a fight with his wife, Tom Greenwood (Joe Swanberg) storms off into the night. On the streets of Chicago, he’s gunned down by a mugger. The movie then jumps to an unspecified time later as Tessa and Will Greenwood, played by Tiffany Bedwell and Beck Nolan, venture to a small town in rural Illinois. They’ve come to clear out and sell the home of a recently deceased grandparent. Soon, this widow and her son find themselves cringing from then embracing aspects of this alien environment. Particularly Will, who quickly makes friends that lead him into the dark depths of gun culture.

David Stobbe and Roger Welp as Cade and Officer Kruegher in Good Guy with a Gun (2023)
David Stobbe and Roger Welp as Cade and Officer Kruegher in Good Guy with a Gun (2023)

During these opening portions, Good Guy with a Gun sets itself up as a character study focused on human relationships. There’s the fractured bond between mother and son, strained by a tragedy neither has really dealt with yet. Add a dash of fish out of water, allowing small town conservatism to clash with left leaning big city folks, who start to realize there may be comforts here they don’t have at home. Writer-director John Mossman does a solid job creating setups juxtaposing differing values in ways which feature their appeal.

For instance, when Will encounters a more pronounced religious element than he’s used to in the city, the scene allows for the comfort some get from faith. Beck Nolan does a good job conveying the impression of someone still reeling from loss, cringing at overt expressions of religious fervor, but intrigued by the potential solace faith may afford. The only downside is the dialogue.

This is a repeated problem during these more human explorations. Certain scenes don’t feel like real conversations. They seem like people trying to make a point, and while this may be the intention of the scene, it still feels awkward on screen. At risk of spoilers, there’s an exchange between Will and his new friends, and as they pop off rounds, these teenagers proceed to have a debate about gun control that sounds like pundits fighting at Fox News.

Dan Waller and Jack Cain as Duke and Jonah in Good Guy with a Gun (2023)
Dan Waller and Jack Cain as Duke and Jonah in Good Guy with a Gun (2023)

It’s not that their arguments aren’t necessarily indicative of voices in such a debate. The dialogue simply comes across clunky and unnatural. As if the point here isn’t to convey a character’s voice but a message. Consequently, an interesting scene demonstrating Will’s emerging conflict — he’s opposed to guns yet increasingly enjoys shooting — turns into a preachy dump of left and right bullet points about gun regulation. While there is room to argue these kids are simply parroting such observations, the fact there’s more interesting dialogue elsewhere in Good Guy with a Gun implies the moment could’ve been scripted better. At worst, it feels like filmmakers didn’t trust the audience to get what they’re trying to convey, so made things explicitly clear.

If that’s the case, it’s a shame since Mossman wisely relies on a lot of emotional expression without words. Throughout Good Guy with a Gun, Tiffany Bedwell provides outstanding moments. She manages to be broken while conveying resilience like someone limping on a busted leg without a crutch. There are some amazing instances where she turns away from a person to hide a tear, quickly wiped away before returning, seemingly unphased by sadness caught only by the camera.

Such moments are the real strength of Good Guy with a Gun. Characters like Cade, Jerry, and Donelle, played by David Stobbe, Ian Barford, and Liv Shine all get instances where they deepen their characters more through emotional expression than words. It’s a blue-ribbon blend where the script sets up the opportunity for quality acting to express a great deal. Cade, for instance, seems like a stereotypical redneck gun nut until David Stobbe delivers a nervous bit of dialogue turning him into a frightened individual who may be regurgitating radical ideology more than believing it. These characters are given a chance to be human. It’s just a shame not everyone gets that opportunity.

Jack Cain and Beck Nolan in Good Guy with a Gun (2023)
Jack Cain and Beck Nolan in Good Guy with a Gun (2023)

Duke, portrayed by Dan Waller, is one of the least subtle aspects of the movie. The music even changes when he’s onscreen with ominous tones thunderously emphasizing his wickedness. And Good Guy with a Gun quickly makes it clear his love of gun culture and efforts to encourage the kids to enjoy firearms are all part of an insidious plot. Nuance goes out the window whenever Duke is around.

The second half of Good Guy with a Gun is a sharp shift into rural noir. Though it does come well timed, right when the character driven storyline starts to drag, it feels a bit sudden. Now there’s violence, suspense, and a car chase down dusty roads. It’s almost like the quiet contemplative film at the beginning got handed off to a straight-to-video action filmmaker.

According to writer-director John Mossman at a Q&A after I saw the movie, Good Guy with a Gun endeavors to present things not as black and white, but a muddled grey. A lot of the acting helps convey that intention. Yet, the film consistently ensures the audience is aware of something evil occurring. Despite some ambiguity at the end, the point remains clear gun violence ruins people’s lives.

I don’t personally disagree with that observation, but Good Guy with a Gun undermines its nuanced takes by explicitly making guns wicked. Instead of presenting challenging notions like gun culture may not be all evil, perhaps providing a strange sense of community, characters like the odious Duke imply something sinister at the heart of any firearm fan. As if they’re all manipulated children, racist radicals, or broken people transmuting sadness into angry violence. Consequently, although a well-constructed film featuring relatable human moments, Good Guy with a Gun just misses the bull’s eye it’s aiming at.

Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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