The feature debut of writer-director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), Shotgun Stories deals in sins of fathers, feuds of brothers and all sorts of Biblically infused, familial drama. It’s weighty stuff, yet also told with a familiar matter-of-factness that makes you feel as if you could be hearing this story as gossip while sitting on a neighbor’s front porch. Three brothers (Michael Shannon, Douglas Ligon, Barlow Jacobs) learn of the death of their estranged father, who had left to remarry and start a second family long ago. They attend the funeral, igniting a feud with their half-brothers, who are not only more financially stable but also have the luxury of real names (the father simply designated his initial children Son, Boy and Kid). Nichols shows a sure sense of command for a first-timer, with a sharp eye for framing and an unhurried style that only heightens the sense of dread. It helps that he has Shannon – a clear standout in the cast – to lend his distinct, mumbled gravitas. Shotgun Stories is at once a small, regional tale and something mythic. It brings grand tragedy to rural Arkansas.
So much for Jeremy Renner