Shotgun Stories (Nichols, 2008)

Is it too early to call Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories the American film of the year? Probably, but it’s a devastating masterpiece all the same, a film consumed by a generational hatred occurring on multiple levels between two sets of half-brothers feuding over the honor of their recently deceased father. Unlike typical Hollywood representations of the deep South and it’s inhabitants, Shotgun Storiesdepicts a complex locale and population embalmed by the silence of a beautiful and longing countryside, entrenched in the daily routine of a slow-paced existence completely at peace with itself. But underneath the wide shots of open fields, stagnant rivers, and desolate country roads lies a forging tension, layered by generations of past experiences which have carved these characters into ticking time bombs. On one side Son (Michael Shannon), Boy (Douglas Ligon), and Kid (Barlow Jacobs), remember a drunk father who they’ve hated all their lives, and on on the other, four young men of the same patriarch who represent a more affluent, born again affinity. The impending clashes occur offscreen, and we are left, like the characters, with the consequences of their violent actions. Shotgun Stories paints a very American nightmare, where vengeance is validated through the protection of family, property, and honor, no matter who gets caught in the crossfire. The most interesting aspect of Shotgun Stories remains the unseen influence parental control has over the hatred, ignorance, and destruction of a family torn apart by years of division. When a Civil War of such glaring complexity achieves this a high level of involvement and tension, the end result is nothing short of breathtaking.

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