Although its title seems to promise something rather raucous, Shotgun Stories is in fact a determinedly quiet film. The debut feature from writer-director Jeff Nichols is most concerned with what simmers and then seethes in the hearts of those who are about to commit violence, and the sometimes-awful silence that lingers in violence's aftermath. It's rare, though, that a picture that deals with as much tragedy as this one also manages to convey as much warmth to its characters.
The Arkansas-set picture takes a while to establish just what it's about: two sets of sons from the same father, Cleaman Hayes, separated by their never-seen old man's reformation. The first set of Hayes boys, born and subsequently abandoned when their dad was a drunk, are merely named Son (Shannon), Kid (Jacobs) and Boy (Ligon). Son, a one-time math prodigy, whiles away his hours off from the fish hatchery concocting a scheme to beat the house at the local casino, much to the consternation of Annie (Pannell), the mother of his boy. Kid lives in a tent outside Son's house. The logy, sweet-natured Boy teaches local kids basketball and powers any number of unusual items, including an indoor air conditioner, via the cigarette lighter of his van. They are not thriving.
The other set of Hayes boys are farmers, and given they were brought into this world after Hayes senior straightened out, they have actual names; the oldest is Cleaman Jr. (Michael Abbott, Jr.). When the old man dies, the sons of the wayward Hayes show up at the funeral; after giving a dignified denunciation of the deceased, Son spits on his coffin. Which sets off a senseless, nasty feud between these guys who, like it or not, are still each other's kin.
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