I was a little late to the Michael Shannon party, but with the aid of a boyfriend who loves the guy, I’m gradually learning what it’s all about, since The Runaways, The Missing Person, and Boardwalk Empire are just the tip of the iceberg. In Shotgun Stories, Shannon portrays Son Hayes, a fish farm worker who invites his homeless younger brothers Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs) to stay with him after his wife (Glenda Pannell) and son move in with her mother. The brothers’ born-again Christian father dies shortly afterward, and they crash the funeral to expose the deceased’s faults to his second wife and sons. This launches an extended feud between the two sets of brothers, who had been raised to hate each other, increasingly escalating in violence.
Reminiscent of Winter’s Bone, this film is deeply immersed in a specific region and its small community. It’s set in a rural Arkansas town, where everyone knows one another and many are making it work on a low income. First-time director Jeff Nichols effectively captures the spirit and atmosphere of his setting, as well as the specific set of relationships among its inhabitants. The sprawling scenery is beautifully shot, accompanied by a lovely string-based score that reminded me a bit of Patrick Wolf. The dialogue is often sparse or ambiguous, allowing the scenes to linger on certain characters’ actions, moods, or presumed thoughts.
Michael Shannon is, indeed, superb in his role as Son, perfectly inhabiting this stalwart, driven man who resents his spiteful mother as much as he acts on her influence. He is supported by the likable duo of Ligon and Jacobs, both sort of goofy guys who step up when their older brother enacts this violent feud. All of the characters feel very real and down-to-earth, popping in with a few humorous moments and insightful observations while the over-arching drama looms over their experiences.
Shotgun Stories is a pensive, closely-observed film populated with moments of extreme violence and a very talented cast. It’s a very impressive debut for Nichols and I’m looking forward to his future projects!
Pair This Movie With: Well I already mentioned Winter’s Bone, and while I think they would go great together, it would also be a pretty depressing double feature. I’m having trouble thinking of a more lighthearted film that would go well with it, but for some reason I keep coming back to the dysfunctional-family comedy-drama Eulogy. So: That.