The following is a retro review of Shotgun Stories, a Jeff Nichols film.
Writer-director Jeff Nichols, who is about to have his breakthrough in 2016 with two major motion pictures (‘Midnight Special’ & ‘Loving’), has quietly been making a name for himself. 2011’s Take Shelter was very impressive, and his 2013-film, Mud, was one of the very best films of that year, in my opinion. But for today’s retro review, I’m looking back at his feature film debut: Shotgun Stories from 2007.
With Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nichols tells a story about two groups of half-brothers with very different backgrounds and support systems. Kid, Boy, and Son Hayes (played by Barlow Jacobs, Douglas Ligon, and Michael Shannon, respectively), the protagonists of the film, had a tough childhood. They had a deadbeat dad, and their mother didn’t do them any favors either.
Understandably, they aren’t particularly moved when they discover that their father, who went on to make a new family as a proper Christian husband and father, has kicked the bucket. The brothers decide to show-up at his funeral to start some trouble, which upsets their half-brothers. Soon Son has started a vicious circle of retaliation.
Shotgun Stories could’ve easily been a simple revenge tale about how a stereotypical ‘redneck’ gets his revenge. But Jeff Nichols, with his feature film debut, made something much more tasteful and restrained. Instead of focusing on the violence, Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories is much more gentle, or touching.
Shotgun Stories is best when highlighting the subtle character moments, and, generally, the moments of silence, where you get to really know the protagonists. There is a lot of life on show, considering the classic genre template of ‘revenge tales’. Even though the film isn’t very long, you become really invested in the lives of Kid, Boy, and Son. Even though characters on both sides of the story situation want their revenge at one time or another, the best moments in the film are the ones that deal with the absence of life, or the joy of a potentially promising future.
The great Shotgun Stories contains picturesque locations and complete characters, and feels very real. I would recommend it to fans of John Singleton’s Four Brothers (2005) and Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), but be aware of the fact that this film is light on violence and action. It is in the subtle character moments that it slightly resembles the aforementioned Singleton and Cianfrance-films.
8 out of 10
– I’m Jeffrey Rex