In Shotgun Stories, a feud erupts between two groups of half-brothers after the death of their father.
Son Hayes (Michael Shannon) is getting dressed and we see the pockmarked scars of a shotgun blast on his back. He goes to meet his younger brothers, Boy and Kid (Douglas Ligon and Barlow Jacobs), who are living outside in a van and a tent, respectively. Son invites them to move inside since Son’s wife, Annie (Glenda Pannell), has left him due to his gambling. One night, the boys’ mother stops by informing them that their estranged father has passed away. The boys visit the funeral, where we see that their father had another family, a family that seems to hold him in high esteem. When Son speaks at the funeral and belittles his late father, the other Hayes boys take offense and a lifelong feud between the two sets of siblings boils over.
Shotgun Stories is the debut film by Jeff Nichols, whose sophomore release, Take Shelter, was one of the best movies of 2011, in my opinion. Shotgun Stories has a similar feeling to it, and also has Michael Shannon, one of my favorite actors. Where Take Shelter had a throbbing sense of despair and tension to it, Shotgun Stories is more of a dull ache. Take Shelter has the events unfolding at a rapid pace, much like Curtis’ break from reality, whereas Shotgun Stories introduces things slowly and with care, since much of the pain of the characters is long gone and scarred over, both physically and metaphorically. There is still a distinct level of tension to Shotgun Stories, it’s just a much slower, more deliberate build.
That slow build is something that I could see putting some folks off of Shotgun Stories so I have a difficult time recommending it to anyone. Jeff Nichols creates a great slice of Arkansas culture here, but the movie seems to crawl along in places if you aren’t looking at character development. The three main Hayes boys the film follows, Son, Boy, and Kid, all have their own things going on throughout the movie, most of which we only get cursory glances at instead of having them fleshed out. I know this sort of narrative doesn’t jibe well with everyone, but fans of indie cinema should know about what to expect out of Shotgun Stories and should appreciate the intricacies built below the surface.
If there’s one positive takeaway for Shotgun Stories (there are many, but if I could just pick one), it is Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon make a fantastic pair. While I love watching Shannon on-screen, his performances in Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter are some of my favorites of his. The actor/director team also have a new film coming out soon entitled Mud that I’m greatly looking forward to. As for Shotgun Stories, it may not be a film I revisit again anytime soon but it has certainly stayed with me long after the credits have rolled and I consider that a hallmark of a good movie.
I give it 4 I didn’t mention there is a character named ‘Shampoo’ out of 5.