tcc: shotgun stories

December 4, 2008

“you raised us to hate those boys, and we do, and now it’s come to this.”

i rented this film from the library maybe a month or so ago.  as i do often, it came in with a slew of other dvds, sat next to the dvd player for 2 weeks, and then went back to the library without ever leaving the case.  it wasn’t that i wasn’t interested.  i remember watching the trailer a while ago and being intrigued, but i just sort of lost enthusiasm for it i guess.

jump to early last week.  in preparation for filmspots 08 i went through all the available dvds of 08 films that i had not seen that had gotten good critical reception, and shotgun stories returned to the shelf next to the dvd player…..only this time it left its case.  and i’m really glad it did.

son, boy, and kid hayes are three brothers living in small-town america in the gothic south.  a town that is very reminiscent of the world of david gordon green (george washington, all the real girls), who was a producer on the film.  son is married, but his wife has left with their son to stay with her mother.  kid is living in a tent outside son’s house, works at a burger joint, and wants to get married to his current girlfriend but is afraid she’ll say no because he doesn’t own a pickup.  boy is living in a van down by the river.  no seriously.  he lives in his van and parks in a valley right next to a river.

and it may sound ridiculous in writing, but what first time director jeff nichols does is amazing.  he infuses these almost ridiculous set ups, with completely raw and broken characters.  they are still tormented from their childhood, but the film never slows down to tell you why.  you just know that something bad went down with their father and their mother, who son refers to as a “hateful woman”.  they are not stereotypes or one dimensional.  they only speak when they should, and are poised with quiet reflection.

when their mother comes to visit them, the distance between them is palpable.  she plainly tells them that their father is dead, that they can find the arrangements in the paper, and that she will not be at the funeral.  everything you need to know about their past comes out in this quick exchange.  and that’s what makes nichols’ direction so great.  he doesn’t pander to the audience, but rather sets up a scene and lets the action speak for itself.

son, boy, and kid then go to the funeral and are confronted by their father’s “new” family, and asked to leave.  but son has to get something off his chest.  he proceeds to tell his father’s other family that was not in fact a good person.  that just because he sobered up and got religious it didn’t make him a better person.  then he spits on the casket and a fight breaks out.

what evolves out of this is very reminiscent of a shakespearean tragedy.  two feuding families, where by the end it seems inevitable that everyone is going to end up dead.  nichols fills the film with this very foreboding feeling the rest of the way.  every scene has dark undertones to it, and the way nichols slowly fills out the rest of the film is great.  he doesn’t rush to a pay-off but lets the film evolve naturally.

the film is one of the best of the year at setting a tone and a place, and keeping it even throughout.  all of the performances from the brothers are fantastic, especially the role of son hayes (played by michael shannon).  i was really captivated every time he would open his mouth and deliver a line.  he had a real presence and feeling for the character which made it all the more real.

definitely rush out and rent the dvd, and don’t miss one of the best films of 2008.


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