Anyone who watched Michael Shannon pump Bug full of basket-case conviction, or steal Before the Devil Knows You're Dead with couldn't-give-a-fuck contempt, knows he's one of the most formidable unsung actors working today in American movies. In this tense, lyrical, and bone-spare slice-of-death drama by writer-director Jeff Nichols, Shannon gets a role tailored to his lanky Middle American boyishness and the demons peering from behind it. A scarred, taciturn would-be card counter, Shannon's Son Hayes has served as de facto dad to his brothers (Barlow Jacobs and Douglas Ligon) ever since their mean-ass patriarch bolted, got religion, and started a happy new family across town. An outburst of fury at the father's funeral reopens the Hatfield-McCoy blood feud between the two clans, setting in motion a Jacobean tragedy of eye-for-an-eye retributions. Scored with ragged, boozy soul by Ben Nichols and his band Lucero, persuasively cast, and shot by Adam Stone (a frequent associate of producer David Gordon Green) with great feeling for dust-blown small-town streets and off-the-interstate Americana, the movie creates a red-state milieu that can turn from cozily familiar to Balkan at the click of a hammer. Above all, it has the riveting Shannon, a winding fuse who shows just by smacking a sibling's feet off his table that Son will leave nothing blocking his path of greatest resistance—least of all flesh.
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