Shotgun Stories from director Jeff Nichols tells the tale of a modern day Southern feud, between two sets of brothers.
One group of brothers was abandoned young. They were then raised by a single mother who was indifferent to them at best, so they came to rely on each other, especially on the oldest brother Son (Michael Shannon). The deadbeat dad then took up with another woman and sired a second group of brothers. His two families come to hate each other, and it all comes to a head at his funeral.
For the first half hour or so when we are just being introduced to the characters and the feud hasn’t yet turned violent, I struggled to stay interested. I understand the set-up is necessary, but it could have been more compelling.
One thing that occurred to me watching this film is that as depressing as this kind of Southern rural poverty is, somehow it didn’t feel like it would be as nightmarish to live that way as, say, in an urban ghetto. There’s just something about the open spaces and the leisurely pace and such that keeps it from having that terrible “trapped” feeling. I haven’t lived that way and I’m sure I would hate it, but somehow on a gut level it didn’t seem as bad. It felt more like if you lived on a farm a hundred years ago and didn’t have a lot of material possessions–it wasn’t a pleasant life, but I assume not everyone who lived that way experienced it as intolerable. Whereas living in some slum would be more like being in prison to me.
Then again, you can make a case that in certain respects the values and lifestyles aren’t that much different. These two groups of young males obsessing over disrespect, and feeling obligated to seek retributive justice for every insult or injury, live by the same macho sort of code you’d expect from a couple of small, informal street gangs in a city. And they have similar (very low) life expectancies.
Once the action starts and they attack each other and the cycle gets going of revenge for revenge for revenge, the movie gets more interesting (though the pace may still seem languorous for an action film to those used to more conventional fare).
The individuals in the feud respond very differently to the cycle of violence. Some seem to relish it. Some grimly go along with it as a necessary evil out of a sense of duty. Some just follow what their brothers are doing without seeming to feel much or think for themselves about it. Some clearly don’t want to engage in it, and either look for ways they can individually avoid participating in it, or look for ways to bring it to an end overall before it gets even more out of control.
The ending contains a nice lesson and is consistent with my own philosophy, but honestly it’s probably too simplistic and positive to be realistic.
This is a film that has some good moments, some fine performances, and at times effective atmospherics, but that never fully lives up to its potential.