The heart that beats beneath Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nichol's impressive directorial debut, is an ironic one. This tale of feuding families and revenge is violent, yet gentle. It's aggressive, yet tender. Most impressively of all, it's a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions yet it's told with the sparsest of dialogue.
Son Hayes (Shannon), and his similarly improperly named brothers Boy (Ligon) and Kid (Jacobs) bear the mental scars of life with, and without, their father. In Son's case, it goes deeper than that: his back is peppered with shotgun bellet wounds from an incident neither he nor his brothers discuss. The implication though it was at the hands of their drunk, violent father. Or possibly even at the hands of their bitter mother who rasied them single-handedly and blamed them — and blames them still — for their father's departure and her resulting quality of her life.
When news reaches the Hayes boys that their father is dead, they attend the funeral to make sure that the mourners realise that they Hayes Senior they know — upstanding pillar of the community, devout Christian, successful businessman, happily married father of four more sons — is only part of the picture. He may have ended that way, but look what he did before. If you want to mourn, they reason, you mourn the whole man, not just the facade of the last 20, 30 years.
Unsurprisingly, this appearance and controversy does not please their half-brothers and the feud that's been simmering for years bubbles over into predictable tragedy. However that's the only thing that is predictable about this elegant, eloquent movie. The performances, particulary Shannon's, are pitch perfect, Nichol's dialogue — such as it is — is painfully real, and his direction is sublime and the combination makes Shotgun Stories one of the finest low-key films of the year.• Official Site
• Shotgun Stories at IMDb