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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Take Shelter (Limited Release Date: 9-30-2011)

        No matter how bad your life is going, I'm willing to bet that you have it better than Curtis (Michael Shannon). Sure, on the surface, the middle-aged mid-westerner has it pretty good: A stable job working alongside a good friend (Shea Whigham), a beautiful and supportive wife (Jessica Chastain), and an adorable young daughter (Tova Stewart) to boot. But underneath all of this is where things are going awry. He's started having apocalyptic nightmares, so intense that he wakes up screaming or worse. They begin to effect the way that Curtis sees the world around him, prompting him to build an expansive tornado shelter in his family's backyard for fear that his visions are prophetic, and that the storm of all storms is a-comin'.

        If Take Shelter sounds like One of those movies that tries to turn the screws on its audience, then congratulations, you've guessed right! As written and directed by Jeff Nichols, TS is a movie that makes its name on dread and decent into madness. The visions that Curtis has are almost always distinct from the operations of the real world, but that doesn't make them any less terrifying. Even Curtis knows that it might be all in his head, as he visits his paranoid-schitzophrenic mother in her care facility in the middle of the movie, seeking answers about the illness, but too ashamed to ask. In short, Take Shelter is a check-up on the modern American zeitgeist, One wherein men who you will never meet take all of your money, and climate changes that you didn't cause threaten to harm you daily. It's a startling depiction of our current state of unrest, making vivid observations while never getting so caught up in its message as to forget to tell a story.

        In a lot of ways, Take Shelter is a pretty damn impressive movie, but there are a few things about it that just won't stop bugging me. The central conceit (is he crazy, or a prophet?) works in contradiction of itself: If he is just going insane, and was somewhat predisposed to insanity, then how seriously can we take him as a barometer of the current American sentiment? If he's right the whole time, isn't that kind of trivializing mental illness to a degree, posing as if really interested in the topic, only to use it as a red herring? I also think the movie could have stood a bit more visual intrigue, as cinematographer Adam Stone shoots almost everything with a still, unfiltered camera. Had the film been colored in the tones of, say, Adam Kimmel's subtly surreal south-west in the film Capote, we might have had a movie as appealing to the eyes as it is to the mind. And while the men behind the camera do, to my mind, come up just a hair short, no such thing could be said of the performers here.

        Everyone on board is top-notch, Chastain given the role of the ever-suffering wife that could have just been filler were in not for her capturing presence. Then there's Shannon, toning down his normative amounts of crazy in order to deliver One of the best performances of the year. Suffering and confusion are immovably etched on to the man's face, his triumphant feats of acting causing the audience to both sympathize and follow Curtis down the rabbit hole at the same time. And best of all, when the script calls for him to go nuts... well, let's just say he's alright at that. Take Shelter is a fascinating movie, a film of lofty, lofty goals that it may or may not attain, depending on your view. I think it gets close, and if the contemplative and thought-provoking aspects of the movie don't quite put it over the top, then Shannon's performance sure as hell will.

Grade: B+

1 comment:

  1. Just watched it and want to talk about it. I think this movie is showing us what a modern day prophet would be like. Here is a man having visions of a biblical disaster. He attempts to keep the ideas to himself until it becomes too much. He loses his cool and begins to question his grip on reality and so does everyone else. This film seems to be trying to say something about our complete unwillingness to believe in the "power of God," if you will. These people would rather believe that their best friend was schizophrenic than actually believe that a man could predict the future (even though these were "decent church goers").