Take Shelter review

Michael Shannon is excellent at playing intense and unstable characters and his role here as troubled husband and father Curtis LaForche is well suited to his talents. Curtis is a construction worker plagued by disturbing dreams. He believes an apocalyptic storm is coming and his everyday behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, much to the consternation of his loving and concerned wife Samantha (Chastain) and his good friend and co-worker Dewart (Whigham). He banishes his pet dog after dreaming that the mongrel has viciously attacked him and urinates in his bed and bites his tongue after further nightmarish visions. He then takes out a loan to build a large tornado shelter in his back yard, intent on protecting his family at all costs from the impending disaster, while all their friends are convinced that he is losing his mind.

That he most certainly is and Shannon plays the increasingly psychotic protagonist to perfection. His lack of openness to his wife and his obsessive belief that the end is coming is masterfully depicted with slowburning skill. It's a performance to marvel at. He's utterly compulsive and his big showstopping scene where he breaks down at the dinner gathering with all their friends there is riveting. It's a gift to an actor and Shannon seizes the opportunity full throttle. If he doesn't receive an Oscar nomination then there's little justice in the world. But that's not to belittle Chastain in any way. In her fifth movie release this year, she is equally fine in a far less showy role. She registers just the right amount of quiet indomitable strength as well as serious worry about her predicament, a calm, self-possessed woman seeing her life crumble around her at the sorry state of her husband. She more than holds her own and the climactic scene in the bomb shelter when they wait for the storm to clear is sublime - beautifully performed, extremely powerful and expressively cinematic despite the claustrophobic environment. The cannily judged music score helps considerably with the unsettling atmosphere.

This is a major advance for writer-director Nichols whose debut, the little seen but worthwhile Shotgun Stories (2007), also starring Shannon, has a similar setting. The characters live in a backwater area of Ohio where their homes overlook large tracts of land. Everyone has to drive as the place is too vast and well spaced to walk. There's a shambling,. lackadaisical air to the inhabitants, they move slowly, there's no hustle or bustle and boredom is rife in their lives.
Take Shelter draws you in with patient command. It has an ambling but deliberate pace, giving time to let the characters breathe as it were and one gets a real sense of the milieu they live in. Nichols is working here on a far more ambitious canvas than his first effort and he rises to the challenge with aplomb. His direction is confident and classy and he brings an absorbing richness to the enterprise. It's a superb film and highly recommended if you're prepared to invest in it.

The final scene however is questionable. I wasn't persuaded by it but others might well find it memorably effective. No matter, see Take Shelter regardless. It's terrific.

Official Site
Take Shelter at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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