Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter (2011) – In the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray lives a day over and over again, there is a young couple that seems to be having an argument. After Murray takes it upon himself to help everyone in the town, the now-happy couple is later seen having just married. The groom in that couple is Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon in his debut film role in 1993. That also may be the last time anyone has seen him happy and well-adjusted on screen. In his Oscar-nominated role in Revolutionary Road he plays someone recently released from a mental hospital. Anyone who watches Boardwalk Empire knows his character, Prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden, is far from happy or well-adjusted. Next year he will battle the Man of Steel on the big screen as the ruthless Kryptonian General Zod. Last year, Shannon earned rave reviews for his tour de force performance in Jeff Nichols’s Take Shelter. Want to take a guess as to the state of his character?

Shannon plays Curtis LaForche. Curtis is a reasonably happy guy actually. He has a good job with benefits that can get a cochlear implant for his deaf daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart). He has a loyal wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain, from about half the movies released in 2011). He works with his best friend Dewart (Shea Whigham… also from Boardwalk Empire). Dewart even tells him that he has the perfect life. So of course everything has to fall apart. Curtis begins having these haunting dreams about a coming storm of Biblical proportions. There will be lightning and tornados and brown rain will fall from the sky and drive people insane. Like violent The Crazies insane. The dreams are intense and stay with Curtis even as he is awake. He becomes obsessed with strengthening the storm shelter out behind his house. However, Curtis’s mother (Kathy Baker) was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in her early 30s. Curtis is 35 now.

Take Shelter is a pretty harrowing portrayal of a man losing his shit. Michael Shannon’s performance, oddly LESS unhinged than many others in his oeuvre, is what really anchors the film. He’s a man well aware of the fact that he might be going insane but he just can’t overcome his certainty. What kind of man wouldn’t want to protect his family? But is his commitment to their safety putting them in a different kind of danger? Take Shelter largely eschews easy answers. It even embraces the ambiguity of the situation. Chastain is also quite good in a role that I would argue is better than her Oscar-nominated one in The Help. It was an odd year at the Oscars all-around. Daring work like Shannon’s in this film (or Michael Fassbender’s in Shame) seemed to get snubbed in favor of safer fare. I’m more impressed by risk. Jeff Nichols’s direction builds a constant atmosphere of dread, more evocative than most horror films. Take Shelter is a haunting film, well worth checking out.

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