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52 Movies: Week 26 - Shotgun Stories

About once a month or so I browse the new release section of my local video store. Most of these stores have gone the way of the dinosaur, but this one is part of a national chain, Family Video, and seems to be doing quite well. I’ve stumbled across some interesting films there, mostly indie releases, and Shotgun Stories was one of these. Picking it up and reading the description, the name of the producer caught my eye. It was David Gordon Green, whose own film Snow Angels I had watched and liked. On the strength of that, and on the appeal of the synopsis, I took it home. I did not really know what to expect from a film from a first-time director and a cast of (to me) unknowns, but I ended up being very pleasantly surprised.

The story concerns two sets of half-brothers and the escalating feud that develops between them when the eldest son of the older set insults their newly deceased father at his funeral. This man had been an abusive drinker in his first family, but after leaving them cleaned himself up, got religion, and became a moderately successful farmer, fathering four more sons with his new wife. The original three Hayes boys, Son, Boy, and Kid (their impersonal names seem to reflect their father’s lack of interest in them) have been raised by their mother, a bitter, spiteful woman who transferred her animosity towards her ex-husband and his new family onto her sons. At one point in the story after a particularly hurtful incident, Son comes to tell his mother what has happened. She has no response, to which he says "You raised us to hate those boys, and we do. And now it's come to this."  That could sum up the theme of the story which, as one reviewer has said, brings classical, even Biblical drama down to the scale of small town life. Point being, it’s all ultimately human, whether the antagonists are Cain and Abel, Romulus and Remus, or the two sets of Hayes brothers.

The film runs for only an hour and a half or so, but takes its time in a somewhat Malick-esque fashion. Wide, lingering landscape shots set the tone, and sometimes serve as links between the dramatic scenes. The dialogue is minimalist, but no less rich and telling for that. And despite the title, the violence is sporadic and brief, realistic, but not in a graphic or gory way. Oddly enough, this serves to make it more painful-looking when it does occur. The acting is all top notch, despite the largely unknown cast, but Michael Shannon is a standout as the eldest brother. He manages to communicate his character’s inner moral confusion with minimal speechmaking and facial expression, doing it all in a way that makes it all seem completely realistic. I don’t know any other actor currently working who’s able to make this minimalist approach work like Shannon does. When he’s in a scene you don’t want to take your eyes off him, because he’s able to communicate so much while seemingly using so little.

Much credit also must be given to first time director Nichols, who took a miniscule budget and made one of the best films of 2007. Seldom has a first time director, coming out of nowhere, demonstrated such maturity and confidence. The film is morally quite serious, and in no sense can be reduced to simply a “revenge picture.” As such, despite its rather simple plot, it’s a film which grows upon repeat viewings, and which can thus prompt a fair amount of discussion, especially for the viewer who’s interested in the human side of such dramas.


Jeff Nichols has gone on to direct three additional films, all of them very good – Take Shelter, Mud, and Midnight Special. And he’s only 37, which means that he made Shotgun Stories when he was still in his 20’s. An auspicious beginning, I’d say.

—Rob Grano has a degree in religious studies which he's put to good use working on the insurance side of the healthcare industry for the past 20 years.  He's published a number of book and music reviews, mostly in the small press, and sometimes has even gotten paid for it. He lives outside of Pittsburgh, Pa.


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I have got the DVD of Shot Gun Stories at home in the Mid West but I didn't watch it yet. Look forward to seeing it when I get back there in August! I very much enjoyed Mud, Take Shelter, and Midnight Special.

I'm sure you will like it, Grumpy, since you enjoyed those other three.

I really liked them all.

Shotgun Stories is just such an atypical handling of the subject. It's been a long time since I watched it, but there is one scene under a tree where the two brothers are talking that I particularly liked. I hope I'm remembering this correctly.

I'm trying to remember the name of two movies I watched that you told me about, Rob. One is the man in the car driving to be with the mother of his baby when the baby is born and the other is about the sheriff who was formally violent and who has been converted.


Nichols has another movie out, Loving. You can save it on Netflix.

I can't find it showing any place around here.


Is Locke the first one, Janet?

Yes -- Locke. The other is Small Town Murder Songs -- a Canadian film.

Right, Janet. The scene under the tree is the one in which Kid Hayes expresses to his brother his doubts about proposing to his girlfriend because he's not sure he'll be a good husband. It's a great scene.

I don't think 'Loving' comes out till Fall.

Well, time goes so fast that I will probably wake up tomorrow and it will be Fall. After the 4th, summer just races to an end.


I like to "Save" the movies that aren't out yet so I won't forget them when they do come out--they will just appear.


I do the same thing -- with books and movies, actually.

The most striking thing in this review to me is the news that there are still some thriving video rental stores.

I liked Mud, though I wasn't as enthusiastic about it as some of you seem to be. I thought Locke was fantastic, though I guess part of that is the tour-de-force-ness of it.

We have one video rental store in Memphis. I think it may have the kind of movies I want to watch, but I'm not sure it's a good place for a 65 year old woman.


You want to watch porno videos? :-)

I guess you mean it's unsafe somehow?

YAY! I just discovered that I've got Shotgun Stories here with me in NYC!!!!!! I brought a ton of DVDs with me, and they've just sat, unwatched, on the bottom shelf of my office. I was sitting on the floor to help someone mend my chair when the title caught my eye.

I do think that they have porn, but it may just be arty porn. ;-) They have some occult stuff. I really don't like to be in the presence of a lot of that in one place. But they also have a large collection of art films.

I think the people that run it are kind of Emo or maybe Post-Emo. ;-)

Maybe I can just call and see if they have what I want and arrange to meet them at the door with money.


I never knew exactly what emo was, so post-emo is truly obscure.

Its a good movie! I managed to watch it on my laptop, though it made a noise like a lawnmower turning itself on and off throughout the movie.

I could never really pin emo down, but I have a young relative who is one. I just made up post-emo because I'm thinking emo must have been succeeded by something else by now.


Ironically enough, given the name, both of the Family Video outlets that I'm familiar with here at one time had porn sections. These were closed off in the back of the store in separate rooms. Both have been replaced via building expansion with eateries, one with a pizza shop, the other with a Subway.

I imagine that the ubiquity of free internet porn made the rental of "adult videos" no longer economically viable.

By the way, the wiki article on Family Video says they have 775 stores nationwide, mostly in the midwest.

'I imagine that the ubiquity of free internet porn made the rental of "adult videos" no longer economically viable.'

Yes, I would assume that, too. I didn't really think the store Janet mentioned was mainly or mostly porn. When we first moved to this town, there was a locally-owned video store that appeared to have a back-room porn section. Never went in to see (not that I'm so virtuous, but I would have been embarrassed). Then Blockbuster came and drove them out of business, and Blockbuster didn't do porn, except insofar as near-porn is part of the mainstream now. Then the internet killed Blockbuster.

Janet, I think "goth" is still around. I kind of have a soft spot for that, at least from a distance. Emo seems a bit vague. If you do a Google image search on emo it seems at a glance to be many many pictures of the same girl and guy.

One of my daughters who is now a delightful young woman, excellent wife and mother, and astute businesswoman, used to run with a Goth crowd. She wore nothing but black. When she had mostly broken with that crowd but was still eschewing color, the local newspaper did an article on Goths and someone gave them her name as someone who was one. They called her at work, where she was very busy. She told them a bit about what Goths were like, but said she really wasn't into the angry, depressive thing, and they said, "So, you're a perky Goth." And that's how they described her in the paper. You have to love the press.


"Perky goth"-- priceless.

I may have this wrong, but I seem to remember Emo being a musical genre first, then a "style." Mid 90's bands like Promise Ring and The Get-Up Kids popularized the music, which was basically a sort-of melodic, introspective post-punk, and then as the music got more popular the "style" emerged along with it. By the time my daughter was in her teens in the mid 2000's, the style was ubiquitous and the music had become fairly commercialized.

Yeah, I was aware of it as a musical style long before I knew it had all those fashion and subculture manifestations. The word "Emo" in one of my comments above is a link to the Wikipedia article and it seems to support that.

I looked up Michael Shannon and he's been in all of Nichols' other movies. I was curious where I'd seen him before. He was in Midnight Special, which I saw a few months back, and in Mud, and in Take Shelter. I don't think I've seen him in anything other than Nichols' movies.

Who was he in Mud?


I have no idea but it says in the Wiki artivle he was in Mud

The boy's brother. I had forgotten him completely.


Actually, I think he was the boy's uncle.

Shannon's been in quite a few other movies, and he had a major role in the series "Boardwalk Empire," which I haven't watched.

He's very good in '99 Homes,' playing a very different sort of character than he's played in Nichols' films:

Oh, okay. That's the character I was thinking of though, I was just forgot how they were related.

I saw the trailer for 99 Homes on the Knight of Cups DVD. That is a really nasty character.



Have you seen Akira Kurosawa's Dreams?


I'm going to take a look at Board Walk Empire.

I don't have a series to watch right now.

It looks very good - 4.5 stars on amazon. I'm going to take a look tonight. I get it free because I have amazon prime

A friend tells me that the Fargo series is good, which would be contrary to my expectations. Anybody else seen it?

I haven't seen Boardwalk Empire btw.

For me, I've seen the great Cohen brothers Fargo movie, and I'm not sure I want to watch a series retell that whole story.

I mean, 'I'm not sure'. I'm undecided about it.

I'd be surprised if it just retells the original story. But I don't know. I'll probably sample it and will let you know.

Janet, I saw 'Dreams' years ago but don't remember it much. I do remember that I liked a couple of the episodes more than the others -- the one about the fox wedding and the one about the ghosts of the soldiers stand out in my mind.

As it happens, I spent the last couple weeks watching both 'Fargo' seasons. They are both very entertaining, and they definitely have the power to hook the viewer. The acting and writing is top notch. But for my money they both require a bit too much suspension of disbelief to make them really good drama. I realize that they're supposed to be serio-comic, like the original film, but I think that in some aspects they take that a bit too far, and at times they feel more Tarentino than Coen, both in the style and in the level of violence.

As one of my friends said, they're both very well done, but you sort of have to leave your brain at the door a little bit for them to work.

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