Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Shotgun Stories (2008). Low-key, almost too low-key, examination of a trio of brothers in rural Arkansas whose contempt for the father they barely knew sparks a Hatfield-McCoy war between them and their half-brother counterparts. To speak of how well writer-director Jeff Nichols does "atmosphere" is redundant; every film influenced by David Gordon Green's George Washington this decade summons the heat, dead-moths-in-the-screen, and inertia of small town life (Green produced this one) as routinely as John Ford films used sagebrush. The film could use more juice, though: the uneven cast treats the few jokes with kid gloves. In its poky way, Shotgun Stories' fatalism – "tragedy" is the wrong word for characters this lacking in self-awareness – seems felt, and the brothers' inarticulateness dovetails with our knowledge of how events can spiral so quickly beyond anyone's ability to stop it.

The Furies (1950). As a rancher who's like Lear with a sense of humor, Walter Huston cackles, lunges, and curses through his last role; it's a fitting epitaph. He's lucky to have Barbara Stanwyck, who plays his defiant daughter, as an antagonist. After a string of post-Double Indemnity stinkers which employed her for little more than a snarl and remembrance of evil past, it's a relief to see her in a role in which she demonstrates how singularly she blends self-righteousness and compassion. She's ruthless because she's gotta be, and contrite when her loins demand it, especially whenever Wendell Corey walks into the room (this is one of the few movies from the period in which the filmmakers don't even pretend that the sexual connection between the two characters is subtextual). As for Corey, whom you might remember as Jimmy Stewart's cop buddy in Rear Window, he's as underrated as Huston is underrated; his self-mocking swagger cools some of Stanwyck's ardor (it helps that he's shaved and coiffed to resemble a young Abe Lincoln). Available in a sparkling new Criterion print, The Furies is the last of Anthony Mann's taut Westerns to see release; now that most of them are available, watch them in sequence.

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