EmptyLiberation Entertainment/International Film Circuit
Jeff Nichols' contemporary Southern Gothic tale indicates the influence of producer David Gordon Green ("George Washington," "Snow Angels") in its elegiac pacing and lyrical shots of depressed landscapes. But for all its formal elegance, this tale of a modern-day Hatfields and McCoys-style feud is far less interesting in terms of its narrative and characterizations. "Shotgun Stories," recently nominated for a John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award, is currently playing an exclusive engagement at New York City's IFC Center.
Michael Shannon, who's previously excelled in such films as "Bug" and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," again displays his compelling screen presence as Son, one of three brothers barely managing to survive in the bleak environs of rural Southeast Arkansas. He and his comparably named siblings -- Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs) -- were long ago abandoned by their alcoholic father to be raised by their embittered mother (Natalie Canerday).
The father moved on to a new life, finding religion, becoming sober and subsequently raising another family consisting of four brothers who enjoy demonstrably greater means. When the father dies and Son and his brothers crash the funeral to convey their disrespects, it sets off a blood feud that ultimately becomes violent.
The writer-director's attempt at a Greek-type mythos feels more than a little strained, and only in the film's quieter, subtler moments -- as when Son strips off his shirt to reveal unexplained shotgun pellet wounds all over his back -- does it achieve the effects for which it's reaching. Although it boasts excellent, fully lived-in performances and a genuine sense of atmosphere thanks in large part to Adam Stone's poetic cinematography and the haunting musical score by Ben Nichols and his band Lucero, "Shotgun Stories" never manages to be fully convincing.