Shotgun Stories

2008, Movie, NR, 92 mins


Little Rock native Jeff Nichols' melancholy tale of retribution and regret unfolds against the lush, pitiless landscape of rural southwest Arkansas.

Son, Boy and Kid Hayes (Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon and Barlow Jacobs) grew up hating Cleamon, the brutal, alcoholic father who abused and eventually abandoned them, a man so indifferent to his sons that he couldn't be bothered to give them real names. Their embittered, equally uncaring mother, Nicole (Natalie Canerday), spent the remainder of their childhood teaching them to hate the half brothers he fathered after sobering up and settling down with a good Christian woman. As deeply damaged adults, Son and his siblings are estranged from their mother and living on the fringes, still in the same dead-end small town where they were raised. Son works at a local fish farm and shares a small, rundown house with his wife Annie (Glenda Pannell), and their young son, Carter (Cole Hendrixson). The brooding Son is convinced he's on the verge of mastering a system that will make him a fortune at the card tables; Annie wishes he'd stop screwing around and losing money they can't spare. Good-natured Kid, who's on the verge of proposing his girlfriend, Cheryl (Coley Canpany), is camping out in Son's yard and the none-too-bright Boy lives in his rattletrap van with his dog, Henry. The trouble begins when Nicole curtly informs them that their father is dead and she's not attending the funeral. They do, and Son impulsively makes an angry speech and spits on the coffin, enraging Cleamon Jr. (Michael Abbott, Jr.) and sparking a feud that inevitably ends in blood and tears.

. Writer-director Nichols evokes a palpable sense of heat and listless boredom punctuated by spasms of seething violence without ever lapsing into Southern-fried clichés. Where other filmmakers have seen sexy, sweaty stereotypes, Nichols sees only the sadness of ruined lives, thwarted dreams and poison passed from one generation to the next. The cast deliver consistently fine, subtle performances, underscored by Ben Nichols' mournfully melodic guitar score. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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