After hearing the review for Shotgun Stories on Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema, I knew I had to see this movie. Just listening to them talk about it dredged up moments from my past that I figured would give the movie a lot of weight for me. While my own stories of family stress are nowhere near as heart wrenching as the events depicted here, a lot of the sentiments carried over well enough to say that, yes, this movie hit close to home on a few different levels. The fact that Jeff Nichols directed the film in a manner that let the story breathe on it's own only served to add gravitas to the events as they transpired. From the very first scene of Son getting ready for work, you know this isn't going to be a happy film. In fact, you could say the whole feels like you are in mourning with these characters the whole time.
Shotgun Stories tells the tale of seven sons born of one man and two mothers. Son, Kid and Boy born of the first wife and Cleaman, John, Mark and Steven born of the second. While the events that led to the first divorce are never detailed, we are made aware that the father all but disowned the first set of boys to start a new life with wife number two. The event that sets things to a boil is best left to be a surprise simply because it had a tremendous impact on me when I saw it. Suffice to say that something transpires that sets the two groups of sons against each other and begins a struggle that is the crux of the plot progression for the rest of the film. I know I am being almost frustratingly vague, but this is most definitely a movie where the less you know going in, the better off you are.
What really struck me about this movie was, as I said before, the subtlety of it all. There is almost no melodrama to be found here and the story unfolds in a way that feels very natural. The characters all look and act like people I knew in my life and in some cases, people I still know to this day. The character of Shampoo, whose only purpose, as far as I can tell, is to push people against each other just to see the sparks fly, rang especially true. Sure, I suppose you could call him a plot device, but I literally was in a situation where a person like Shampoo was going back and forth between myself and a third party doing everything they could to get us to fight. It just seems like some people get off on that kind of thing. The other characters mostly had traits that I recognize in my friends and family, but Shampoo was like an embodiment of someone I knew put to celluloid.
Another thing I wanted to mention was the way characters in Shotgun Stories grieve. They mourn the dead the way real people do; by getting on with their lives and gritting their teeth through the pain. No outlandish scenes of tears and declarations of "Why, God, why???" Just people that looked like the world has ended going about their daily lives the same way they did the day before tragedy came knocking on their door. Again, this hit home, because it is a reflection of how I grieve, as well. You almost feel worse for the mourners as you watch them go through this, because it seems weird compared to what we are used to in films. Almost as though you are going through the time with them as opposed to simply watching the events transpire.
I don't know that I can throw particularly high praise at Jeff Nichols as a director for this film, simply because he doesn't show you much to get excited over from the directorial side. What I will give him credit for is having the balls to give his film room to unfold at it's own pace. In this day and age of two second cuts and way too much dialogue, the scene in the hospital, with it's long takes and almost no dialogue, pleasantly surprised me. I will say that the writing was fantastic, though, and for me, that's almost enough to satisfy me and keep me coming back. I will definitely be watching out for his upcoming projects and I hope that he continues to hone his craft. He has the patience needed to become truly great. Time will tell if he has the skill.