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SHOTGUN STORIES (director/writer: Jeff Nichols; cinematographer: Adam Stone; editor: Steven Gonzales; music: Ben Nichols/Lucero; cast: Michael Shannon (Son Hayes), Douglas Ligon (Boy Hayes), Barlow Jacobs (Kid Hayes), Michael Abbott Jr. (Cleaman Hayes), Travis Smith (Mark Hayes), Lynnsee Provence (Stephen Hayes), David Rhodes (John Hayes), Glenda Pannell (Annie Hayes), Cole Hendrixson (Carter), Natalie Canerday (Nicole), G. Alan Wilkins (Shampoo), Coley Canpany (Cheryl), Vivian Morrison Norman (Melissa); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: David Gordon Green/Lisa Muskat/Jeff Nichols; International Film Circuit; 2007)
“Good natural performances.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jeff Nichols directs with great care and craftsmanship this no-budget indie nightmarish family drama revenge tale about a clan war erupting between half-brothers in a sleepy depressing southeast Arkansas town that has cotton fields, a fish hatchery and a Main Street with nothing going on.

Son (Michael Shannon), Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid Hayes (Barlow Jacobs) are the abandoned twentysomething children of their drunken father who left them to be reared by their hateful mother (Natalie Canerday) and grew up to be young men with a deep hatred for their father and his new family of four half-brothers with real first names–Cleaman Hayes (Michael Abbott Jr. ), Mark (Travis Smith), Stephen (Lynnsee Provence) and John (David Rhodes). Dad when he remarried turned over a new leaf: he gave up drink, became a successful businessman, a caring family man and became respected in the community as a reborn Christian, but could never find love in his heart for his abandoned low-class family and continued to turn his back on them. The oldest and most protective sibling, Son, who works in the fish hatchery, has scars on his back from shotgun pellets for protecting his kin–something he refuses to talk about.

One night, Son’s embittered mother comes by his small rundown cottage to tell him their father died. The three brothers crash the funeral and Son spits on his father’s coffin. This upsets his more civil and righteous step-mother and brings anger to his four half-brothers, which will soon escalate into a bitter and bloody feud, something that nobody wants. But a few beatings and a few killings take place, as old grudges are again raised and the violence goes tit-for-tat before the dust settles.

The pacifist, Boy, buys a 12-gauge shotgun, but can’t fire it in revenge. Boy then offers himself as a human sacrifice to his half brothers, hoping he can bring about peace for the future generations. The film ends with a hopeful message that non-violence is the only way to bring about peace. Though uncomfortably slow paced and with annoying long blackout fades to change chapters, it nevertheless offers an only too real cautionary tale with an anti-violent message and tries to settle things in a thoughtful cerebral way instead of Hollywood’s usual action-filled way of letting the gun talk louder than words. Even if I’m not totally convinced by the optimistic ending of the final showdown, I still felt good to see things that got way out of hand get resolved in such a level-headed way without further bloodshed. It’s also helped by good natural performances by the understated performers and Nichols as the native son storyteller who knows the ways and mores of that rural southern region, giving the film an authentic feel.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”