I grew up in a small Greek town right in the middle of a large plain where people grow cotton for a living and ride tractors for fun. Much like the one in Arkansas where Jeff Nichols’s Shotgun Stories go on. Nevertheless, homesickness wasn’t the reason this movie kept me interested throughout. It was its deep understanding for its characters and its refusal to play out the way one would expect.
It’s the story of three boys who go by the names of Son, Kid and Boy since their father was a drunk bum with no care for them whatsoever. But that bum became a reborn christian and raised a new family (had four new sons with proper names) in the same town totally forgeting about the other. At his funeral the three of them arive unexpectedly and Son spits on the coffin nearly causing a fistfight but surely starting a feud. From that point on the tension between the two families mounts towards a possible bloody duel.
It’s an asset to the script that it makes us expect a gory finish to all this the same way that cinema has taught us all these years. And no matter what happens (since violence is mainly suggested instead of depicted) as we get to know those country bums from cottonland we realise that, even though they aren’t eloquent about it, they too have something to lose. That’s a reversed stereotype right there, a reason to think again about what we might have in common with those righteously ungry guys who, in the beginning, crave for revenge as a purpose more than a redemption.
Jeff Nichols shoots his first feature film, trusting the scenery, the faces of his actors and the music for creating the atmosphere while he counts on small everyday-life incidents for character building. He gets us acquainted with the three outcasts but gives us few insight on their younger half-brothers who, except from the two teenagers, lead a balanced and succesfull rural life. It’s weird but these people from the other side of the Atlantic, seemed very familiar to me.
The actors all thrive at their roles as they mainly use silence and instant violent outbursts to express their state. Michael Shannon leads the pack in a role he can surely carry around in his cv (though i haven’t seen Bug or Before the Devil Knows you’re Dead) in a tightly acted feature. At this point i feel obliged as a reject to throw the spotlight on Glenda Pannell, the pretty girl with the great boobs that warms up this film’s experience.
Let it be noted, that indie cinema seems to have found a new mentor in David Gordon Green whose production credits and influence appear in this gem. Over here, a Greek company gave distribution to “Shotgun Stories” last november although it’s by no means a mainstream crowd-pleaser plus from a totally unknown young creator.
That said, it’s an excellent debut for Jeff Nichols, writer, director and promising film-maker.