Alternately terse and elegiac, Shotgun Stories works best when it observes the lives of its main characters, three lower-class brothers from southeast Arkansas. Beaten-up trucks parked by the river, cotton fields, and plainly furnished living rooms evoke a certain low-key, vaguely melancholy mood, and independent films have a long tradition of showing quiet, stoic lives against this uniquely American backdrop. Writer-director Jeff Nichols shuns multi-act structure, pacing his film nicely as a series of incidents: local kids playing basketball, a man trying to plug an air conditioner into the cigarette lighter in his van, and a 12-gauge shotgun being fired at an abandoned tire. These moments, beautifully acted in quietly intense performances by Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, and Barlow Jacobs, prove more compelling than the central narrative. Their father has passed away, and they’ve never forgiven him for the life he lived: Drunken and cantankerous, he ran out on them when they were kids, leaving them to be raised by a “hateful” mother (Natalie Canerday) so he could forge a better life and raise a new family with a Good Christian Woman. A powder keg of emotions is opened up at the funeral, and hostilities erupt between the brothers and the father’s other, more affluent, children. When Shotgun Stories locks into this tragic narrative, it gradually tightens the notch until violence becomes inevitable. The theme that revenge only leads to misery feels like familiar territory, and one wonders if the film would have been better off simply implying the violence of its characters through its indelible images. The opening shot of Son Hayes (Shannon) putting on a shirt, where we see his back peppered with old wounds from shotgun pellets, says far more than any of the fight scenes that break out between the rival siblings. The film might have worked better if it was simply a poetic representation of farmlands and parking lots, with a repressed American anger haunting every moment, rather than a long, slow build-up to a showdown.
- International Film Circuit
- 92 min
- Jeff Nichols
- Jeff Nichols
- Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, Barlow Jacobs, Natalie Canerday, Glenda Pannell, Lynnsee Provence
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