Shotgun Stories

The South, Without White-Trash Clichés

Jeff Nichols’ film, seen at SIFF last year, is the kind of thing Breece D’J Pancake would have written had he lived past 30. Set in oppressive rural Arkansas, the film captures the breaking point in a long-standing rivalry between two trios of brothers fathered by the same man but raised under vastly different circumstances. At his funeral, crashed by the first three sons, we learn he was a reformed drunk who abandoned his first family and sought redemption with the second. One son’s spitting on the casket ignites a feud between the two clans: Fistfights escalate to dog poisoning and finally to a fatal bar brawl. Mostly a cautionary tale about the futility of revenge, Shotgun Stories succeeds because the characters have been so skillfully rendered. Nichols’ script is colored with mildly comedic episodes and blunt, unvarnished dialogue. (Sample: “I ought to clean my van up.” “Yeah.”) Many attempts at portraying rural folk end up as caricatures, but Nichols, a native of Little Rock, has respect for these folks, no matter how inarticulate—and ultimately violent—they are.