It seems like I went all semester without seeing a great movie. I liked Slumdog, but thought it was a bit overrated (and maybe a bit too saccharin?). Shotgun Stories, however, completely bowled me over. As soon as I finished watching it, I turned right around and watched the director's commentary. I have no clue how this slipped by big film festivals, the Oscars, and year-end lists ostensibly unnoticed and remarkably unheralded.
Shotgun Stories tells the tale of two different families: one that was abandoned by their father, another that was raised by that same formerly-fleeing father. The abandoned children were left at the mercy of their unloving mother in a working-class world, while the father's new family experienced the love, support, and relative financial prosperity that he provided.
The father dies near the film's outset (he never appears on screen), and these two previously separate worlds collide, once Son, the eldest of the three abandoned boys, speaks his mind at the father's funeral (their father's lack of devotion is most evident--but never explicitly explained--by the fact that the children have the names Son, Boy, and Kid). The other family, the ones that benefited from their father's sobriety and religious conversion, are angered by Son's disparaging eulogy, and what emerges is a modern tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions.
The film's writer and director, Jeff Nichols, grew up Arkansas and the film is set in its rural areas. The focus on the area's natural beauty, simple surroundings, and long scene transitions had me convinced that Nichols was ripping off David Gordon Green ... until I watched the commentary and found out they had been classmates at film school and DGG put his own cash into the film when he became one of its producers. Furthermore, the film's cameras and second unit were the very same that DGG employed in George Washington and perennial Cine-Men favorite, All The Real Girls. Thus, I excused Nichols from any sort of infringement into DGG's territory.
The surprise for me here was Michael Shannon, the actor that played Son. I couldn't remember seeing him in anything and the trailer actually made me a bit skeptical of his talent, but his calculated and contained rage were perfectly portrayed for what his character embodied. A minor character (that actually plays an important role) named Shampoo provided a bit of necessary laughter to offset the film's deadly serious tone.
Blurb: An absolutely outstanding piece of cinema that somehow was--and still is--under the radar. I can't wait for Jeff Nichols' next project, even though it's entitled Goat.
Here's the trailer if you want: