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Shotgun Stories - Review

Shotgun Stories

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

FIRST-time writer-director Jeff Nichols said he wanted to turn the idea of finding success in revenge on its head with his debut feature, Shotgun Stories, and succeeds in creating a haunting, yet thought-provoking family drama.

Son (Michael Shannon), Kid (Barlow Jacobs) and Boy (Douglas Ligon) Hayes are three brothers struggling to get their lives in order. When their long-departed father dies, they attend the funeral and pass comments that re-ignite a feud between themselves and their half-brothers. Gradually, the bitterness between the two families escalates into violence, until tragedy strikes.

Slow-paced, yet strangely affecting, the film benefits from some high-calibre performances and an impending sense of violence that hangs over it from the beginning. The sense of bitterness and resentment felt by the Hayes brothers is palpable throughout – but it’s fascinating to watch how each deals with their feelings in different ways.

Shannon’s Son is a particularly fascinating: a loner who won’t talk about the scars on his back, but who’ll do anything to protect his family. And yet it’s his incendiary comments at the funeral that provide the catalyst for what follows.

Jacobs, meanwhile, is the hot-head who would rather settle matters right away with his fists, or a sharp stick, while Ligon is the thoughtful, brooding type who is possibly the most dangerous when pushed to the limit.

Nichols’ film slow-builds to a really tense conclusion that provides no easy resolutions and only a bittersweet form of redemption. In that sense, he achieves what he set out to do.

But his directorial style is no less impressive, making the most of its sweaty locations amid the cotton fields and back streets of Southeast Arkansas to further accentuate the pressure-cooker scenario.

Cinema-goers accustomed to fast-paced, blood-spattered tales of revenge might be disappointed at Shotgun Stories’ slow-burning style, but those that do will find a sobering alternative to such films that leaves plenty to mull over afterwards. Nichols is clearly a filmmaker to watch.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 92mins
UK Release Date: May 23, 2008