When I wrote about Jeff Nichols’ latest movie Mud, I talked about liking, but being underwhelmed by his second movie, Take Shelter, despite the masses of critical praise it received. But now that I’ve seen all three of his films to date, I think maybe Take Shelter just suffered from being my first, and me not fully understanding Nichols’ world. Because after seeing Shotgun Stories, I think I get it, and I know I really like it.
Jeff Nichols recurring player Michael Shannon plays Son Hayes, one of three brothers, along with Kid, played by Barlow Jacobs and Boy, played by Douglas Ligon. Their father dies and it turns out he was one virile son of a bitch, having sired another four sons with another woman. When Son, Kid and Boy show up at his funeral for Son to basically tell the mourners that their father was a prick before spitting on his coffin, you get the idea that maybe these two sets of half brothers don’t make up one big, happy family.
Tension between the two families grows and so do their acts of retaliation. One of things I like best about Shotgun Stories is the believable way things escalate. Early on, small, almost understandable antagonistic acts get the ball rolling, and they build so incrementally, that once guns are being shoved in people’s faces and the odd skull gets caved in, you’re totally on board with everyone and it’s hard to even remember who started and if either side is in the wrong or being unreasonable.
Michael Shannon really does have a certain quality about him. I’ve heard it referred to as creepy, but I think that’s a little unfair. Don’t get me wrong, I think he can be mega creepy, but it’s not an innate quality. What makes Michael Shannon so entertaining is his intensity. The look of absolute commitment and focused attention in his eyes means you believe him as a heartless hit man in The Iceman, you believe him as caring uncle in Mud, you believe his schizophrenic madness in Take Shelter and you totally believe his abused son, dedicated brother in Shotgun Stories.
Wherever Jeff Nichols goes next, I hope he keeps building on the world of his first three films and I hope Michael Shannon’s role is major. So far he’s one of only three people listed in the cast on the IMDB page for Nichols’ upcoming Midnight Special. And one of the other two is Joel Edgerton. So it looks like I should probably start getting stoked for that one right now. It also looks like I should probably give Take Shelter another chance, because I am well and truly on board with whatever it is Nichols wants to say.