Shotgun Stories (2007), or The South Is A Harsh Place To Live

9 02 2009
Down-and-out living in the truest sense.

Down-and-out living in the truest sense.

Well, folks, today we tackle a little-seen but highly regarded film that I hope to have more people watching by the end of the month. This is an indie movie that deserves some recognition, and damn it, if one person from this site goes and watches this movie then I will be sated. If anyone watches this movie, let me know in the comments section and tell me what you thought. It’s easier if you have Netflix, and I think it’s playing on the Sundance channel right now, but if you only have a Blockbuster handy as a renting device, you might be SOL. Oops!

Set in the hot, sticky, horrible South, Shotgun Stories tells the story of the Hayes brothers, nicknamed ‘Son’, ‘Boy’, and ‘Kid’ haphazardly by indifferent and cold parents, who have just learned that their abusive, deadbeat dad has passed away. He left them with virtually nothing, and they never even knew him. But they go to the funeral regardless. And at the funeral, they see another set of brothers; the sons from their father’s subsequent successful marriage that had everything bequeathed to them. This meeting, though curt and spiteful, prompts several more meetings, each one escalating into further and further violence. Along the way, we learn more about Son, Boy, and Kid, and just what it means to live in the rural cotton fields of Southeastern Arkansas.

It’s a very simple plot, but the great part about this movie is the subtlety, the things between the lines. These three brothers are very unique, and each one of them is a joy to watch. My personal favorite is Son, played by Michael Shannon of Revolutionary Road fame. He is the least fucked up, and therefore the most tragic. He has a chance at life, but rural Arkansas is just the wrong place for it. The movie’s central theme for me seemed to be futility; the futility of living in the dying rural Southern countryside, the futility of hating someone for someone else’s mistakes, and the futility of hating yourself. It is a harsh life they lead, and there are no easy answers, but the futility of their decisions begins to show as attrition takes its toll.

Jeff Nichols helms this project, and I have nothing but praise for this newcomer. He is astute, well-versed in the subject matter, and knows how to build suspense and interest slowly, the way it needs to be. This is a slow movie, but life does not move at the pace of movies, and I think that people’s patience has been unfairly ratcheted up by movies over the years to reflect an unnatural human pace which does not seem to exist. This picture works because it seems to work at the speed of the rural South, and that speed is drag-ass slow. There is an odd feeling in the air that perhaps everyone in rural Ankansas is mortally wounded but they just haven’t picked up on it. This feeling is amplified by the equally odd but amazing soundtrack that features quiet local music and listless ambience.

This is a great indie cast. How they assembled such a perfect cast is a mystery. The brothers (Son played by Michael Shannon, Boy played by Douglas Ligon, and Kid played by Barlowe Jacobs) radiate a quiet, frustrated sadness that permeates their very environment. Michael Shannon again shines as a man who is stuck, who cannot escape his own life. He is a hurt person, wounded like the rest of that world. The other brothers are very good, even more so considering that this was their first acting performance. Their stories will haunt you after the movie is over. I look forward to seeing these people in more roles, hopefully something just as intimate and independent as this one is.

This is a profound, moving indie picture made on a shoestring budget about the cost of living in a small agricultural town. It is not so high a price to pay in money, but it can drain your spirit as sure as anything. I recommend this movie highly, although if you are not a fan of indie dramas, this one could alienate you a bit. Check it out! I give Shotgun Stories 9 depressing Arkansas towns out of 10. I hope to hear some stories about people watching this one particularly in the near future! Leave a note in the comments section if you see it and tell me what you think!

See you tomorrow for the PSA! We will take a look at Capote!

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