Length: 92 minutes
Director: Jeff Nichols
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Glenda Pannell, Douglas Ligon, Barlow Jacobs, Natalie Canerday, Lynnsee Provence, G. Alan Wilkins, Michael Abbot, Jr., Coley Canpany, Cole Hendrixson, Tucker Prentiss, Wyatt Ashton Prentiss, David Rhodes, Travis Smith
It’s no surprise that David Gordon Green (Snow Angels; All the Real Girls) went to film school with the writer/director of “Shotgun Stories”, Jeff Nichols. They both probably learned more from Terrance Malick than the film school and as Malick produced Green’s underrated masterpiece, “Undertow”, Green has produced his old friend Nichol’s film debut. The visuals are striking, the pace is slow but poetic, there is action- though most of it takes place quickly or off-screen, yet more is told through expressions and nuances than dialogue. It’s a story about a family rivalry. A family fathered by one drunken hateful man who abandoned his wife (Natalie Canerday) and three children to start a new life as a born again Christian and fathered four more children with his new wife. They all live in the same small redneck town in Arkansas and when the father dies all hell breaks loose. The abandoned children have grown up and remain extremely close. They are informed of their father’s death by their mother, whom they despise, one night as she knocks on the door and lazily tells them and then leaves. Son (Michael Shannon) is the father figure out of the brothers. He is married to good woman (Glenda Pannell- in a wonderful performance) who can’t understand why he is more loyal to his brothers than to her. He also has a son who he takes out fishing with the other two brothers- Kid (Barlow Jacobs) and Boy (Douglas Ligon). Kid is engaged to his high school sweetheart (Coley Canpany) and sleeps in a tent outside Son’s home. Boy lives in his van and coaches the middle school basketball team, which consists of three kids, and is always listening to an old Benny Mardones cassette that is stuck in his tape deck. After Son’s wife leaves him, the brothers move in. They attend their father’s funeral and Son makes a speech telling everyone in attendance- which of course includes his new family- what kind of man he really was and then he spits on his casket. The incident starts a chain of events that leads to a feud that goes from threats to violence to murder. The new family didn’t know the old version of their father and are loyal to him. Son knows maybe that he made a mistake, but is too proud to admit it. The eldest brother (Michael Abbot, Jr.) of the new family sees what is coming and tries to stop it, but it slips out of his control. The deliberately slow pace is used well to build the tension in the film and it’s a look at how gossip isn’t just something that women at hair salon’s take seriously. Most of the events in the movie are spurned by hearsay- mainly by a homeless drug dealer named Shampoo (a hilarious G. Alan Wilkins) who is sort of the messenger of doom between the two families. It’s also a movie about letting macho ego get in the way of logic and it’s one of the best examinations of a small rural Southern town in recent memory. The characters are rednecks, but they aren’t played for laughs- there are funny moments for sure, though Nichols lets us know that his characters aren’t dumb. They may not think through important decisions, but they are smarter than their appearances. Clearly, this movie isn’t for everyone. Some will be bored, others will be frustrated with some of the plot turns and the open ending. Others will appreciate the honesty and poetry of it. David Gordon Green is earning his reputation as one of the best directors of our generation and it sure is nice of him to introduce another great talent to us. “Shotgun Stories” is an excellent debut and I can’t wait to see what Jeff Nichols will do next.