"Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton/Old times there are not forgotten." -- "Dixie Land"
And that can cut both ways; writer-director Jeff Nichols's Shotgun Stories is a tale of the South -- the flat fields and summer heat of Arkansas, where people struggle with the past every day. We first meet Son Hayes (Michael Shannon) as he struggles out of bed, his back marked by scars; years ago, Son took a shotgun blast, lived, lived with it. Son's brother Kid (Barlow Jacobs) lives in a tent in Son's yard; their other brother Boy (Douglas Ligon) lives out of his van. They get by, working at the fish farm or coaching high school basketball. And then they're told their father has died. Years ago, their father quit drinking, found Jesus, put his life right -- but not for them. He has a whole separate family, one that knew the man he became; for Son, Kid and Boy, reconciling that fact with the man they knew is a hard thing to do. And maybe they don't want to, when it comes down to it.
Produced by David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls, Snow Angels) Shotgun Stories is another piece of a distinct thread of storytelling that's been running through American independent film for several years now (one which, not coincidentally, Green's also explored in his work). Shotgun Stories is a piece of hardscrabble Southern minimalism, one that wrenches strong drama out of the everyday, set in places where the landscapes are wide open but people's feelings are tightly closed. Son, Kid and Boy go to the funeral to have their say, not to praise their father but to bury him, and their insistence that their pain be remembered part and parcel with his new family's pain at his loss spirals into anger and then into violence.