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"Shotgun Stories"

Directed by Jeff Nichols.
Written by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, and Barlow Jacobs.
Release Year:  ???
Review Date:  4/29/07


The first of three films that I watched at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival, "Shotgun Stories" is an old-fashioned family feud drama, complete with two families who are bonded by a patriarch that was loved by some and absolutely hated by others...and, instead of taking the slant of simmering emotions that lead to a shootout at the OK Corral, the film takes a more realistic look at two families that simply don't like each other and take differing steps to resolve this hatred.

Michael Shannon (a classic "guy-in-the-background" character actor with more than 30 screen credits) stars as Son Hayes, a 30-something Arkansas fish farmer who is on the long, long path to nowhere when we meet him; as the oldest of three men, we only know that he's got a gambling problem, a wife from whom he is separated, and two brothers named Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs) who are also just getting by and down on their luck.  They don't talk to their mom any more; we learn quickly that their father, Clemen, has just died...which is fine by them, because the man was a deadbeat in every sense of the word when the boys were growing up.  Clemen had a second chance, though, after divorcing the mother of Son, Boy and Kid and remarrying, to a woman that bore four more boys who had a much more positive experience with Clemen and are the ones who bury Clemen a few days after his death.

Son and his brothers crash this funeral and, in doing so, offend the second Hayes foursome so much that you just know things are gonna go down later.  But, this is where the film takes a bit of a turn--by creating this new drama, writer/director Jeff Nichols decides to shelve the drama and intermittently slide it in while letting us get to know the seven Hayes boys over the course of the next hour; the effect is occasionally powerful, even if the means are quite subtle and at times, downright quiet.  Patience really is a virtue while watching "Shotgun Stories"; if you take time out to appreciate the beautiful scenery of rural Arkansas and the stoic vision of the characters as they struggle through a life that, quite frankly, I hope to never regularly live, there's something kind of relaxing about the film, even if it gets to a fever pitch that is still quite quiet in the general scheme of things.

Having seen Shannon in other films (looking at the list now on IMDB, the only ones I remember standing out were bit parts in "Bad Boys II" and "Pearl Harbor"), and then listening to him speak at the post-screening Q&A of the film, you can see why Arkansas-native Nichols wanted to cast Shannon so badly for his film--Shannon's not acting when he drawls out his lines in "Shotgun Stories" and his bleak, intimidating style works well here in trying to envision a man who doesn't take any shit.  The rest of the cast is similarly redneckish, to strong effect; Nichols casts a light on the younger Hayes foursome as the slightly-bad guys that in retrospect is pretty cool, by making them just slightly less redneckish, slightly more well-off (driving cars that are not totally shitty, having real names, not just nicknames; generally having jobs that are slightly less shitty, etc.).  And, in having a one-eyed former criminal/local know-it-all named Shampoo (who also has the film's best line, while driving away from a conversation with a lead character:  "Bienvenidos, bitch!!"), "Shotgun Stories" even has a taste of comic relief which helps break up some of the silence.

All of us agreed after the screening that we were probably on that 3-out-of-5 line when the film was over, but by having the writer/director and all of the cast there to answer questions, "Shotgun Stories" got a bump because it was fun learning more about the movie when it was over AND watching the cast--who shot this film literally in October of 2004 in less than a month--still have much of the chemistry that worked well onscreen.  Nichols also added a couple of good stories about the production to all of this, and this just left me a bit more excited about the film, which is reflected in the final rating.

Hard to say if this one will be picked up (as of our screening, there is not a distribution deal in place yet), but if it is, I think it will be a modest success for those involved.  With a cast this no-name, though, it will be tough for it to make a real dent, but if this makes it to DVD, it is worth a viewing at the casa.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09