out of Five
Running time: 90
Brilliantly acted, superbly directed and beautifully shot, this is a gripping drama that really gets under your skin and marks writer-director Jeff Nichols out as a talent to watch.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Shotgun Stories is set in rural Arkansas and stars Michael Shannon as fish farmer Son Hayes, whose back is covered in mysterious shotgun scars. When his estranged father dies, he takes his younger brothers, Kid (Barlow Jacobs) and Boy (Douglas Ligon) to the funeral and delivers a speech about what a bastard his father was, which promptly ignites a feud with their half-brothers (Michael Abbot Jr, Lynnsee Provence, David Rhodes and Travis Smith).
It's no surprise to find director David Gordon Green credited as one of the producers of Shotgun Stories, as it's instantly reminiscent of Green's North Carolina films. Like Green, Nichols makes terrific use of the empty Arkansas landscapes and the film is beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer Adam Stone.
Michael Shannon (Bug) adds another terrific role to his increasingly brilliant CV with a powerfully understated performance. There's also strong support from Douglas Ligon and Barlow Jacobs as his brothers, while Glenda Pannell makes an impression as Son's wife, Annie.
First-time director Jeff Nichols generates an extraordinarily tense atmosphere, to the point where you brace yourself every time you hear a car pulling up. Nichols isn't above having a little fun with the audience either – at one point, Kid and Boy are talking and a car appears behind them, unseen, only for it to turn out to be Kid's girlfriend Cheryl (Coley Campany), bringing burgers.
Although there's relatively little dialogue, the script does throw up the odd gem, particularly when the brothers are talking about their "empty-ass town". In addition, there are several excellent scenes and the film is packed with delightful little touches, such as Boy's erratic car radio that keeps turning itself off and on again.
Shotgun Stories a thoroughly engaging, superbly directed and incredibly tense drama with a terrific central performance from Michael Shannon. Highly recommended.