Originally Reviewed – 10/29/2011
What the difference between a prophet and a lunatic? The smelly guy who sits on the S train screaming about the end of the world sure looks crazy but what if he was really clairvoyant. As we move through our day to day routine, we hear things people are saying but through fear, arrogance or simple personal protection, we never let those scary notions sink in. But what if that wingnut is right? What if he sees something we don’t, tapped into an invisible stream meant to warn us of our end. How would we treat this screamer in the streets? How do we treat them now? This is the exact notion explored in Take Shelter, a smarty written film about one man’s premonitions and the effect it has on his friends, his community and his family.
Character actor Michael Shannon stars as Curtis, father of a financially strapped family living in working class Ohio. In the caring of his supportive wife (Jessica Chastain) and their deaf daughter (Tova Stewart), Curtis works as a construction manager, enjoying a life of hard work in a loving family. However, after having a series of visions and dreams of an impending apocalyptic storm, Curtis becomes obsessed with the protection of his family. In the role of Curtis, Shannon cements himself as an actor of depth and range. Shannon expresses a range of emotions in a startlingly stoic way, creating a character that is stern and fixed in his belief. All of Curtis’ actions are in defense of his family and it’s this love that helps the audience through the subsequent consequences. The town doesn’t take lightly to Curtis’ increasingly manic behavior and the question of how far will you go to protect your family, even when that very family has their doubts, comes into play. The result is a tense and at time exhilarating series of events that take place in a patient way, a real treat to watch.
In the role of his wife, Chastian continues her rise as one of the best actresses in Hollywood despite the character having little depth. The role of Samantha only exists to cement the family dynamic and while Chastain does a fine job with the responsibility, I would have liked a little more development from her character. In the end, this film is all Shannon and he pulls it off beautifully, all building up to a pivotal scene at a community dinner where the frustration of being seen as a psycho boils over in explosive fashion. Shannon does some remarkable work here and should be considered for a couple of awards this coming February.
All the good work by the cast would be in vain without a smartly written script and lovely direction from writer/director Jeff Nichols. Brimming with tension, the arc of Shannon’s mindset is full of suspense and intrigue. While the main portions of the film are filmed in a bland yet honest way, the real visual treats arrive when Curtis falls asleep. His dream worlds are frightening and filled with terror, bringing the audience to the edge of their seats. There are some heart stopping moments in Take Shelter and full marks need to be given to Nichols for balancing the stark realities of working class life with beautiful imagery. In the director’s chair, Nichols never betrays the a-ha ending, letting the audience decide for themselves on the mental state of Curtis. The result is a film that immediately absorbing and quietly powerful.
In the end, Take Shelter is a love story, not in a romantic sense but a personal one, a story of family trying to pull together in the hardest of moments. Curtis’ obsession pulls his loving family to the breaking point, and thanks to some excellent direction, we care every minute about the state of this small sampling of American life. Filled with lovely performances, gripping intensity and an underlying warmth that supports the mounting terror, Take Shelter is unabashed triumph. Maybe the yahoo on the S train isn’t a prophet but after watching the story of Curtis and his lovely family, I’ll at least lower the iPod a bit to hear exactly what he has to say. Not because I think he’s right but at least he cares enough to yell out loud in the first place.
Score – 90%