The deserving winner of a jury award at SIFF 2007, Shotgun Stories tells the story of a trio of brothers—saddled with the portentous names Son, Kid, and Boy—nursing a long-held grievance against their father, who left their "hateful" mother when they were young. Compounding the initial sting of abandonment, their father then established a shiny new family and reputation in the same small Kentucky town. When the patriarch dies suddenly and his oldest children crash the funeral to say some words about his sins, the rival sets of half-brothers conceive a blood feud. Reconciliation is not forthcoming.
The greatest virtue of Shotgun Stories, which was coproduced by David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls), is the sun-baked cinematography by Adam Stone. From bursting cotton bolls to wan fish farms, the images are beautiful and nearly worth the price of admission. At the same time, their meditative pace exerts a dangerous inertia on the rest of the film. That slowness drags the score into repetitive motifs that never seem to speed or slow and locks the dialogue into an occasionally artificial-sounding gravity.
Michael Shannon is a force as the oldest brother, an unrepentant gambler whose intelligence and temper give him sway over his younger siblings, played sympathetically by first-time actors Douglas Ligon and Barlow Jacobs. When he starts the cycle of violence spinning, the sense of tragedy and loss feels real. Writer-director (and Kentucky native) Jeff Nichols is a promising filmmaker—if only his style were slightly less intentional, you might get the feeling that things could really spin out of control. Sadly, tragedy absent terror isn't nearly so affecting.