Shotgun Stories * * * *

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Director: Jeff Nichols.
Screenplay: Jeff Nichols.
Starring: Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, Barlow Jacobs, G. Alan Wilkins, Travis Smith, Michael Abbot Jr, Glenda Pannell, Natalie Canerday, Lynnsee Provence, David Rhodes.

In 2011, relatively unknown writer/director Jeff Nichols took a lot of people by surprise when he delivered one of the best films of the year in “Take Shelter“. However, four years prior to that he had already made his debut with Shotgun Stories which is a film that shares a similar downbeat tone. Despite being seen by very few, this impressive debut shows a strong ability from this new director.

In the back roads of South East Arkansas, three close brothers, Son (Michael Shannon), Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs) hear the news of their estranged fathers death. They attend the funeral if only to relate their vehement hatred of the man as he abandoned them in their youth and started a new family. As result of this, their fathers other sons (and half brothers to them) get involved in a feud that reaches dangerous and deadly proportions.

I always find it quite interesting watching the debut of a director you admire, especially when you’ve been introduced to them at a later date and find yourself looking back at their earlier material just to see where they honed their skills. In this case, it’s easy to where Jeff Nichols is coming from. Like “Take Shelter“, this film starts off at a deliberate pace. It’s in no hurry to tell it’s story and favours a slow approach to build up it’s characters and the mundane lifestyles they lead. It may be a little slow for some but the story here is all very deliberate and naturally handled. Nichols certainly has an eye for small town America and with help from cinematographer Adam Stone, he effectively captures the vast emptiness of the town which also reflects in the emptiness of the characters’ lives. Everything about this film is subtle and understated but all the more brooding and effective for it. Performance wise, there are some faults with the lesser known actors but as always, Shannon delivers a solid show and with scars on his back that resemble shotgun shells, it only serves to fuel the films enigmatic nature and understated detail. When the feud between the half brothers takes hold, the muted first half of the film turns to one of tension as it reaches tragic Shakespearean heights that’s handled very impressively and never succumbs to formula. By this, there lies the question on whether the denouement is as satisfactory as it could be but Nichols’ handling is undeniably good and it makes for an impressive debut from him. It’s not quite as good as “Take Shelter” but this is a director that has started strongly, backed it up with one of the best film’s of 2011 and I believe will continue to go from strength to strength – time will tell with his forthcoming film “Mud” released later in 2012.

In “Take Shelter“, Nichols dealt with events that had almost biblical proportions and when looking at this you can see that he shares a similar theme. This is a highly accomplished debut from one the most exciting new directors to reach our screens.

Mark Walker

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18 Responses to “Shotgun Stories * * * *”

  1. I’ve added the film to my Netflix queue because of your review, Mark. Thanks.

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    • It’s worth seeing Michael. I was a big fan of Take Shelter and that was the only reason I hunted this down. I’m glad I did though. Not quite as good but still worthy.

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  2. I still haven’t seen Take Shelter yet, so I might check that out first before going into Jeff Nichols’ other films. Thanks for bringing up a director that wasn’t on my radar before, Mark.

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    • Nichols is definitely worth looking into Ruth. Take Shelter is a must. It’s an absolutely brilliant film. I rated it with 4stars but I often wonder why I didn’t go higher than that. I’ll wait till I see it again though.

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      • That’s always nice to hear about new ‘crops’ of director. As for rating, I feel that sometimes I might change my mind about a movie after I sit on it for days or weeks. And if I rewatch it again I might feel differently about it, too.

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      • Exactly, I feel this way about Take Shelter. I might have shortchanged it. I preferred it over Shotgun Stories but rated them the same. Couldn’t give Shotgun any less than four.

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  3. Thanks for a great review. I am intrigued by this film now. To be completely honest, I am slightly disappointed with ‘Take Shelter’, the pace is just too slow in that film for my taste, and something tells me I would like this film more (though you say that ‘Take Shelter’ is better).

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    • I personally preferred Take Shelter but I know of some that preferred this more. However, if the pace of Take Shelter was too slow for you, you might find this similarly done. That seems to be the pace that Jeff Nichols works by. Give it a go anyway though, I’d like to hear your thoughts.

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  4. Really makes me want to see this NOW.
    I think this is going to be one of those super cult classics after Nichols really hits it big.

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  5. Great review, man! I love films about familial disputes and Michael Shannon is certainly talented. I’ll definitely check this one out based on your recommendation.

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  6. Great post, thanks for introducing me to this one.

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  7. I really want to see this. Take Shelter was one of my favorite films from last year, and this sounds like a great one as well. Thanks for the reminder, Mark.

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  8. Sam Fragoso Says:

    I like your point about delving into the beginning of a filmmakers talent after you’ve already seen later works.

    At Ebertfest, Shannon and Nichols came along to do an extensive Q & A after a showing of Take Shelter in 70 mm. They’re both so overtly talented individuals who have a unique vision for the future of cinema.

    I need to see Shotgun Stories — your review, amid a sea of other positives ones, has my excited.

    Sharp review Mark.

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    • Thanks again Sam. It’s a great little film and I’m looking forward to seeing more from these two. I’d love to have been at Ebertfest. I heard quite a bit about it from other bloggers while it was on and it sounded great.
      I hope you don’t have to wait much longer to see this, I’d like to hear your take it.

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