This indie film based on a Civil War legend had potential but ultimately fell below the standards of a made-for-TV movie.
A Confederate surgeon invents a battlefield legend to protect a young woman from an intolerant society in Son of a Gun (2019), written and directed by Travis Mills. This indie production reels in its audience with an interesting premise but from the first scene to the last, falls short in nearly every category of filmmaking.
The year is 1863. Union and Confederate armies are locked in deadly combat near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Battlefield surgeon Legrand Capers (Miles Doleac) is pulled away from a wounded soldier to tend to a young woman (Jessica Harthcock) at a nearby farmhouse who was shot in the abdomen by a stray bullet. Months later, he returns to learn the woman is pregnant, yet she insists she’s a virgin. The stray bullet, passing through the soldier’s scrotum, must have somehow impregnated the woman! At least, that’s what an elderly Legrand Capers (Cotton Yancey) tells a group of old-timers at a tavern.
Things get complicated when the film unravels three separate versions of events, with different actors and actresses playing the various roles. Each version leads the audience further away from fantasy and toward the scandalous truth. Finally, as Capers is dying of tuberculosis many years after the war, he is confronted by the family’s former slave, Mamie (Nancy Lindsey), who knows what really happened.
Son of a Gun’s use of multiple perspectives and multiple casts to tell the story was unique and not as confusing as it sounds. The actor who played middle-aged Capers, William Shannon Williams, was subtly charming and fit the role well, as did actress Nancy Lindsey. For the most part, the performances were fine. It was the amateurish sound and editing that cheapened every scene.
Son of a Gun is based on a Civil War-era medical legend about a bullet that carries away a soldier’s testicle and impregnates a woman living nearby. Mississippi physician Legrand G. Capers, Jr. originally submitted the tall tale to The American Medical Weekly as a joke. It was published in their November 7, 1874 issue. Snopes recounts how the story spread and eventually lost its farcical origins.
This film invents an explanation for why Dr. Capers would circulate such a story. He was, according to writer/director Travis Mills, protecting a young woman from scandal who became pregnant out of wedlock. I enjoyed watching as each story unraveled to uncover just a little bit more of the “truth”. Unfortunately, the film’s technical flaws overwhelmed any redeeming quality.
I hate to criticize an amateur filmmaker because we all have to start somewhere, but Travis Mills has dozens of short films under his belt. Son of a Gun looks like all the first takes from a better movie. The sound quality is awful. In more capable hands, this film could’ve been a quirky dramedy in the vein of O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000). Instead, we’re left with an unpolished rough cut in desperate need of audio and video editing.
Son of a Gun has high ratings on Amazon and Imdb, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Did we watch the same movie? This film had a more entertaining story than another recent indie Civil War movie, Finding Josephine, but at least that film got the basics right. I’ve seen amateur YouTube channels with higher production value. Send this one back to the editing room and try again.