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Worth a shot

PUBLISHED: 17:48 21 May 2008 | UPDATED: 17:11 16 August 2010

BROTHERS IN ARMS: G Alan Wilkins and Douglas Ligon in Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories.

BROTHERS IN ARMS: G Alan Wilkins and Douglas Ligon in Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories.

WRITER/DIRECTOR Jeff Nichols first time effort is a hauntingly desolate portrait of the insidious resentment that hangs over three Arkansas brothers who were abandoned by their drunkard father to be raised by their uncaring, hat

SHOTGUN STORIES

CERT 12A

WRITER/DIRECTOR Jeff Nichols' first time effort is a hauntingly desolate portrait of the insidious resentment that hangs over three Arkansas brothers who were abandoned by their drunkard father to be raised by their uncaring, hateful mother.

More interested in the bottle than his boys, the Hayes brothers' father paid so little attention to his offspring that he couldn't even be bothered to name them properly, instead opting for the condescending descriptive monikers of Son, Boy and Kid.

After leaving his wife and kids he stops drinking, finds Jesus, gets remarried and sires five more sons, though this time around naming them more conventionally and taking proper care of them.

The brother's social life revolves around the house of Son (Michael Shannon), the eldest, who works on a fish farm with his younger brother Kid (Douglas Ligon). Son is going through a rough patch with his wife Annie (Glenda Pannell) who has moved out with their son Carter (Cole Hendrixson) in protest to her husband's gambling.

The up side of this is that Kid, who has been sleeping in a tent in the yard, gets to sleep in the spare room. The third brother, Boy (Barlow Jacobs), is a bona fide bum who lives in a van with his dog Henry and whiles away his hours drinking and coaching kids in basketball.

When their mother turns up at the door one night to tell them that their Dad has died the boys head out to the funeral to say a final farewell to their old man. They turn up halfway through the service and Son asks to say a few words.

He loses his cool and lets his half-brothers know what he really thinks of their late father, ending his speech by spitting on the coffin.

The insult sparks off a full-scale feud between the two sets of half brothers and things quickly start to get very messy indeed.

The mood is distinctly downbeat and at times almost palpably oppressive, but the film has flashes of warmth and humour that, when combined with the excellent acting of the leads, help to add to the authentic feel and suck the viewer deeper into the brothers' world.

The dialogue is taunt and spare with much of the story being suggested by carefully constructed images that capture the brothers' frustration perfectly, and by filming in a broad, expansive widescreen with much of the frame occupied by empty space, Nichols creates a very immediate sense of the vast Arkansas landscape's isolating qualities.

Shotgun Stories is taunt and slow-burning beast of a film that marks the arrival of a considerable talent.

* Shotgun Stories opens in cinemas on May 22.

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