Shotgun Stories is the
story of three men, Son (Michael Shannon), Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid
(Barlow Jacobs). They were named this way because their abusive
alcoholic father couldnít be bothered to come up with real names for
them. When they were young their father walked out on them, leaving them
with their hateful mother. Their father sobered up, became successful
and started a new family, never speaking to the boys he left behind.
Years later Son and his brothers find out that their father has died and
attend his funeral. Son speaks his mind and spits on his coffin, leading
to an escalating blood feud between the two sets of families.
Shotgun Stories is
writer director Jeff Nicholsí big screen debut, and the film is a
beautiful and powerful look at two sets of families in rural America.
The film contains only sparse dialogue between the characters, and that
is all it needs. It never steps into overwrought exposition about what
the father did or how the characters feel, as it doesnít need to be
said. Visual touches of the rural landscape and the respective homes of
the two families show the lives of the characters so expressively that
there is no need for additional dialogue. For example Sonís back is
littered with shotgun shells and it is never definitively said how it
happened, but the small allusions to it are more than enough to clue in
The film plays out as a revenge tragedy but
overdramatic touches are kept to a bare minimum. Instead the film plays
on a slow yet steady burn that carries an air of menace throughout. This
is helped by the brilliant soundtrack and lingering shots of the small
town they inhabit. The film also boasts excellent performances by the
leads. Special mention must go to Michael Shannon as Son Hayes, the
eldest of the three boys. Son doesnít say much about his abusive
lifestyle, save from his diatribe at his fatherís funeral. Details are
never gone into about the boys past but it is all shown on Shannonís
face. His stare is commanding and manages to convey the pain and
simmering rage that he contains within him. The brief scenes of the
three brothers hanging out together are well acted, and once again show
how close the boys are without ever stating the obvious point.
The disc itself has decent audio and video, nothing
too flashy, yet nothing that diminishes the experience of the film.
Special feature wise the disc contains only a theatrical trailer. A
commentary track by the director would have been nice, but unfortunately
this release is about as bare bones as you can get.
Nichols has established himself as someone to watch
out for in Hollywood for the coming years. The film is constantly
riveting and never beats you over the head with its plot points. Well
written, directed and anchored with some top notch performances,
Shotgun Stories is a tense and tragic film that will keep you glued
to your seat for its ninety minute running time. Despite its lack of
additional features, Shotgun Stories comes highly recommended for any
fan of film.