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Nathaniel

Shotgun Stories (2007)

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I plan on seeing this. The early reviews have been uniformly strong, and Michael Shannon's acting impresses me. (Just look at his convincing spiral into madness in Bug, or his irony-free portrayal of a churchgoing Marine in World Trade Center.)

Plus, I'm always curious about movies that claim to say something about the American character. Variety calls it "a point-blank buckshot blast of American rage." What, as opposed to regular human rage? Do tell.

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Shannon is very good. He has a great face for the screen. He looks like a leading man from the 70s who's just awakened in 2008 and is pissed off about it because nobody has answers. There's a leanness to him, a simmering silence, and then when he speaks his voice is a surprise: menacing and deep. I predict that major directors are going to notice him and cast him very soon... perhaps Michael Mann or Quentin Tarantino. He's got that odd, indescribable something that makes actors like Daniel Craig stand out.

All of the actors are good. It's a raw, searing saga of a bloody family feud. Strips down its storytelling to the merest of parables, and yet the characters stick with me. You won't have any trouble seeing David Gordon Green's influence (he's a producer), and thus you won't have any trouble seeing the Terrence Malick influence.

The film should be an example for any director who wants to tell stories about violence without doing violence to the viewer. The violent moments -- they are few, but jarring and even sickening -- are powerful demonstrations of restraint, and yet they hit as hard or harder than any shock-value splatter.

Definitely a title we should be viewing and discussing, and remembering in six months when it's time for lists. If I were doing a film fest on themes of hatred, revenge, and reconciliation, this would be an easy pick for that program.

Now I'm going to go read Ebert's four-star review.

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I appreciated the film's leisurely pace and richly drawn characters, but I thought it fizzled at the end. That final confrontation needed something a little extra, don't you think? But I'm grateful that the filmmakers abstained from tabloid sensationalism. That would've been ruinous.

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"Fizzled"?

Really?

I can't imagine what I would have done differently. It ends with one big scary question hanging in the air.

There's a YouTube video of an interview with Nichols for a French audience that is interesting and revealing, and in my snooping around I also discovered that the story was inspired by a Drive-By Truckers song, which fits perfectly.

I'm really excited to watch Nichols' career. He's already a master of understatement, capturing a sense of place, and giving his actors time and quiet in which to work and develop nuanced characters.

I'm interviewing him in 25 minutes.

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Great! Wish I had time to transcribe it for you, but I don't just yet. There will be an article in a month or two.

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M. Leary   

Can you link to this interview JO? I really enjoyed thinking of the film as a prequel to A Straight Story. There are lots of thematic and visual connections that can be made between the two. Otherwise, the film is a good example of telling violent stories, and using a lot of naturalist footage.

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The article should be posted at Image tomorrow or the next day. I ended up only using a few excerpts from the interview. My recording was really bad... partly because I was on a bad phone AND Nichols was talking on a cell phone while driving his car. So I couldn't make out much of what he said.

Eventually, I'll expand the article to include more of what he said, plus what David Gordon Green said. (I ran out of space, given the word-count limit, to include his perspective).

I really enjoyed thinking of the film as a prequel to A Straight Story.

Wow. Cool.

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Of course one of the elements that is important is that the blood feud is among brothers (half-brothers to be precise, but brothers all the same). It brings to mind things like Northern Ireland, or the struggle between Shia and Sunni, and eventually all struggle between God's children. (Although I wouldn't want to work to hard at making the father into a god-figure.)

I think the viewer is meant to understand the father more through the eyes of Son, Kid and Boy, than the sons who have real names and a real relationship. How could those boys ever forgive a father that treated them as they were treated? That stain, I think, should be obvious to the other set, but they seem to not see that as something that needs to be addressed so that brothers can be brothers.

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Ron Reed   

Perfect film. Such a precise observation of a small town. I love the establishing shots and "pillow shots" that give such a strong feel for the place, and for the pace of life. So many shots are so beautifully composed.

No caricatures. The acting is truthful, not showy.

The dialogue doesn't feel contrived, nor do the situations or plot development.

One of my three top films this year, so far. Along with SILENT LIGHT and IN BRUGES. I'll be telling everybody about this movie.

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I'm thrilled to read your reaction, Ron. So far, it's my favorite film of the year.

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Yeah, I think it might be my favorite of the year. I saw it a month or so ago and was struck speechless, so I ended up not writing anything about it. I agree with Ron wholeheartedly (and am sad not many year-end lists are recognizing it).

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M. Leary   
Perfect film. Such a precise observation of a small town. I love the establishing shots and "pillow shots" that give such a strong feel for the place, and for the pace of life. So many shots are so beautifully composed.

I need to watch it again, but the only problem I have with the film is that it doesn't really wed its strengths to each other. The documentarian shots of the fish farm and the natural cinematography are memorable. So is the quiet way its actors bring this story about. But I wish the film were a bit longer. It kind of flops back and forth between story and cinematography that maybe some longer transitions would have helped. It has a lot of affinities to Silent Light in terms of image and pacing, but Silent Light spends a lot more time moving back and forth between story and nature.

It is such an organic film, though. I love the way it lets all the anger bubble up to the surface so slowly.

Edited by MLeary

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Crow   

I thought this was a very good film. It moves in the leisurely place of real life and allows you to enter into the world these characters are living and understand them. The film reminded me quite a bit of The Son in its exploration of the consequences of either choosing to act or not to act on feelings of personal anger. And in both films, the occupation of the characters is respected and provides a framework for moving on with life as an alternative to resorting to violence. And the climax, the final choices that can lead to violence or forgiveness, was moving without resorting to a neatly wrapped up platitude or emotional release.

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Wow, this film is as good as advertised.

So much to reflect on after watching this...revenge....forgiveness....or lack thereof.

Michael Shannon, along with the rest of the cast, is excellent. In any other year, he would have won the Oscar for Revolutionary Road. Let's hope he has a long and fruitful career.

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Persona   

In hopes of still getting to Mud on the big-screen (but even if that doesn't happen, it's out on DVD in a week or so), and remembering how much I loved my one screening of Take Shelter (which seems to grow stronger over time, to the point of actually fearing a second viewing), I finally went back and caught Shotgun Stories, and was delighted at such a strong find.

 

Michael Shannon, as has been said here, was just awesome as Son, and I'm thinking this acting performance is "as per usual." Nichols must love this guy to death, having had him in all three of his released films, and then in the future "Nichols sci-fi" project as well. I personally think Shannon is becoming one of my favorites -- I kinda even dug him as General Zod.

 

The mood here was low-fi, and just perfect. Something boiling under the surface. Like a Wovenhand song ready to explode any moment. This thing is seething with rage, and you are on edge just expecting it to pop.

 

Which is why the ending might be so perfect. It feels like everyone has

had enough. This feud has already cost both families plenty, in fact it stems from the same man that divided this one family into two. If things were to continue at this point, there might only be one or two left standing out of the original eight. Wives and children could very well be next. The next generation might want to take over the same as the generation we are watching, which has inherited this thing. I think it's perfect that the children arrive when they do, saving one character from being shot. It's maybe this moment in the story where reason and rage collide. This monkey on our backs has already caused enough death.

 

Matching the mood is a score which, especially in the end of the film really stands out. I looked up the music, and it is Ben Nichols. Huh. I wonder if this, too, is a brother-thang. I love how in the last three minutes of the actual film the acoustic guitar is playing the picking pattern from the song "Hold Me Close," to then cut to the ending credits, where an electric picks up the same pattern and the actual song starts.

 

Dry and dirty. Wiping the grime off and moving forward. Nice touch. What a perfect ending.

Edited by Persona

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Yea, it was the ending that solidified this film as something great for me and made me eager to see Nichols next work. He set the bar high, I don't think he's passed it yet, but I'll keep watching because he's still making wonderful films.

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Persona   

Yea, it was the ending that solidified this film as something great for me and made me eager to see Nichols next work. He set the bar high, I don't think he's passed it yet, but I'll keep watching because he's still making wonderful films.

I'm pretty sure I still favor the mental apocalytidisturbia of Take Shelter, but I wouldn't split hairs over it. These are two great films. Can't wait to get to Mud.

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I think out of respect for Nichols I will have to revisit Shotgun Stories.  I'll confess that I watched it one night late simply because I couldn't fall asleep.  At that time...it held my attention...but I just felt like there was a hollowness to it.  

 

For what it's worth...I do love that the ultimate hero in this story isn't Michael Shannon.  It is Douglas Ligon's character 'Boy.'  He is the one that understands that the reality of responding to violence with violence...the reality of revenge...is a cycle that doesn't end.  He ends the violence by laying down his gun.

 

My take on Shotgun Stories on Letterboxd.

Edited by MatthewBradham

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Brian D   

Now streaming on Amazon Prime.  Joining the recently added Miracle Maker and Lucky LIfe on Prime as evidence that someone from Arts and Faith is helping suggest titles for the Prime catalog. :)  That and the presence of Adam's Apples and Sophie Scholl.

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