Take Shelter Reviews
Michael Shannon, the man who made Bug even more amazing than it already was and who rocked the insane sorority girl's email, delivers an astounding performance in this film. What is so great about him is his restraint, while underneath one can see a seething pit of emotional energy. His work in the film solidifies him as one of the best new actors. Jessica Chastain is also good.
The film as a whole snuck up on me. I thought it was moving slowly and predictably until the last act. Shannon's work was compelling, but the plot didn't find its legs until the end, but once it did, the scenes were compelling, and I found that I had grown to care about these characters.
Overall, this is an astounding thriller, and Shannon is a fantastic actor.
What we are given is Curtis, an honest man living in a small town in Ohio who is struggling with the added financial burden of special needs classes for his deaf daughter. Nichols hits all the right touches of a bonded family, with wife Samantha supplementing the family income by sewing and embroidering while caring for their daughter. Yet slowly a darkness descends on their lives as Curtis, in a wonderfully measured performance by Michael Shannon, begins to have visions of apocalyptic proportions. The central question is whether these visions and nightmares are prophetic or a sign of mental illness. Nichols walks a fine line in leaving that determination to the viewer.
The juxtaposition between small town life where everyone seems to know everyone else (and their business) and the wonderfully filmed sequences of thunderheads crackling with lightning set the tone as Curtis and wife Samantha (well played by Jessica Chastain) go about their daily lives only to be thrown into having to face the darkness - these scenes of outrage, followed by redemption and acceptance show the strength of their love and their commitment to each other and the family they have created. It's this bond as well as the way in which Nichols so easily gives us a view of a way of life that not only adds to the suspense but separates this film from so many other neo apocalyptical films (for in this case the film isn't so much about the apocalypse (because it may or may not be real, or may or may not be mere metaphor), but about a man's mind and his soul, as well as the soul of his loving wife.
The film certainly takes a measured pace in doling out the story, which at times dampens the tension, but overall this is a terrific study in humanity and how the human mind is capable of projecting our fears into our dreams - whether or not this is an illness, or part of the human condition is part and parcel of the film's mystery. Check it out and decide for yourself.
This is not only the best 'descent into madness' film I've seen in a while, it's one of the best of that type in general. The modest budget indie route was also probably the best way to go for this film too, because I can't see it working as well as a major budget studio affair. The film has a great atmosphere that is tense, subtle, creepy, and really nuanced.
What effects there are are great, but the real strength lies with the writing, but especially the acting. Michael Shannon knocks it out of the park here, and this is one of his bet performances. His casting could seem slightly on the nose, but I think he still really sells it perfectly. Jessica Chastain appears as his concerned wife, and I'm really starting to like her. It probably helps too that she's been in a ridiculous number of movies over the past couple of years, but I don't think it's just the high amount of exposure. She really is a capable actress who should have a long and fruitful career ahead of her.
I like that the film spends a lot of time towing the line between what could be real, and what could be imaginary. It really sucks you in and draws out the suspense even more. Answers are given, but even then, you still find yourself questioning things. This is some of the most compelling film making I've seen in a while.
Definitely give this one a shot. It's haunting and really unforgettable.
Like The Road, Take Shelter could be described as a slow-moving shaggy-dog story. It's 2 hours long and feels like it, but unlike The Road it nearly always uses the time widely. While John Hillcoat's film lacked a sense of escalation and eventually became repetitive, Jeff Nichols takes us through every single flinch of emotion in the right order, so that we know the characters inside out before the storm arrives. This is not a film which is waiting to rush headlong into the special effects - it wants to build and build so that it becomes about the people, not the punch-line.
The film draws on a number of entries in the apocalyptic thriller canon, some easier to spot than others. Nichols described it as being an indie take on the big-budget disaster movies of the 1990s, such as Twister and Deep Impact. He styled the film as being 90% indie drama and 10% special effects, while in these kinds of films it is normally the other way around (and a lot less indie). The first success of Take Shelter is the refreshing sense we get from watching real characters, whom we care about beyond any generic expectations.
The film also references to Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, not only in the sequences involving birds attacking humans but in the inexplicable and intangible nature of the threat over which the characters have no control. You might also say that this is how The Happening would have turned out, had it been made by someone with brains and no ego. But by far the closest resemblance is to Michael Tolkin's little-seen The Rapture, which imagines what it would be like if the Biblical prophesies in Revelation were literally true. You won't find any seven seals, bowls of wrath or a Whore of Babylon in this film, but there is the same sense of a global, supernatural catastrophe which the world is too ignorant or frightened to acknowledge.
This resemblance is conveyed in the story's Biblical overtones. The film is on one level a retelling of Noah and the flood - a story of a man driven to build a great structure that will keep his family safe from the upcoming destruction of the world. Like Noah (and Sharon in The Rapture), Curtis' project is ridiculed by the locals, for whom spending money on doing up a tornado shelter must seem as stupid as building a boat miles from any ocean. When Darren Aronofsky's Noah arrives in 2014, this is the standard to which it will have to be compared.
As you might have gathered by now, Take Shelter departs from the disaster movies of Roland Emmerich and the like by actually using the disaster to represent something. This is not a film which is being made simply to cash in on all the nonsense surrounding Mayan prophecies or the revived interest in Nostradamus. The drama and trauma experienced by the characters reflects how we would react to an impending disaster as ordinary people, who do not conform to the conventions of action movies, and who cannot simply be divided into protagonists and obvious cannon fodder.
Take Shelter also has a decent amount of subtext about the current financial crisis. Nichols wrote the script in 2008, shortly after directing Shotgun Stories and around the time of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Not only are the central characters under a huge amount of financial strain, but the film positions Curtis as a Cassandra figure, representing the warnings about the housing bubble and sub-prime lending which went unheeded until it was too late. Jut as Gojira depicted a country reeling from nuclear war, so this film is about a man doing all he can to shelter his family from the crisis that will raise our financial system and society to the ground.
But for all its allegorical subtext, what really makes Take Shelter stick in your mind is the nuanced of its characters and the emotional turmoil they face. The film is a fable about devotion to one's family and sticking to your beliefs even if it means going against what seems best for those you love in the short term. The film is confident and mature enough to give us a protagonist whom we don't unequivocally back: we are still making up our mind over whether to trust Curtis right up until the moment when the yellow rain begins to fall again.
Curtis is an interesting character since we have complete emotional empathy for his cause and yet we never entirely trust him through the main part of the film. He isn't an antihero in the traditional sense, displaying no desire to rebel against society or mistreat his friends. Instead he is someone who treads the fine line between sanity and insanity, driven by his belief in what is right and his fears of becoming schizophrenic like his mother. The film gives us a great many reasons not to trust him, including this revelation - and yet we somehow go with him, believing the validity of his cause.
The film is grounded in the brilliant central performance of Michael Shannon, who is becoming the go-to actor for borderline deranged, edgy characters. Shannon is physically intimidating, with eyes that seem to look right through us: even the act of him saying that he's fine can put us on edge. But he is careful to rein this in, making us focus on his sense of tragedy, and his struggle to keep everything internalised so that he can focus on his plan without hurting his family.
Shannon is ably supported by Jessica Chastain, who was nominated for a Saturn Award for her performance. Whatever the merits of her work in The Tree of Life, Chastain seems to have more to work with here, with Nichols ensuring that her breakdowns don't feel choreographed or predictable. Special plaudits should also be given to Tova Stewart, who plays Curtis and Samantha's 6-year-old daughter and is also deaf in real life. Nichols called her one of the smartest child actors he'd met, and you never get the sense of her being manipulated to produce an emotional response.
Being a film about the end of the world, Take Shelter does involve a certain amount of special effects. Nichols is reserved in using them, but when it does become necessary to have birds attacking or furniture floating in slow-motion, he is careful to integrate it into the action. As with The Birds, we don't really notice too many technical shortcomings since we are so bound up with the fate of the characters to emotionally invest in anything else. We don't care about how well the birds are rendered or whether the waterspouts are accurate in size: all we care about is whether Curtis, Samantha and Hannah will get out alive.
Take Shelter is a great, haunting and thought-provoking film which reminds us of the potential that exists in stories about the end of the world. Shannon and Chastain's superb performances are matched by Nichols' strong screenwriting and direction, giving us a character study with depth and threat to counterpart the looming destruction of their world. Some viewers may balk at the running time, but those who stay will not be disappointed by one of the very best films of 2011.
It's the story of Curtis, a troubled, but fundamentally decent Ohio working man with a supportive wife Samantha, and lovely, hearing impaired daughter. He's on the verge of a mental collapse - he may have inherited paranoid schizophrenia from his mother (Kathy Baker). Curtis is haunted by dreams and premonitions of an apocalyptic storm. He starts to built an elaborate storm shelter on his property, behind the backs of his wife and friends, and takes out an ill advised bank loan to pay for it. Interestingly, Curtis doesn't share any of his visions (or his project) with his wife and coworkers, yet we know exactly what he's thinking at all times, and the great Shannon does it with subtext and a look. (And Nichols does it with very restrained but effective special effects, showing Curtis' imaginings).
Without histrionics, Take Shelter portrays, in totally believable and non-schmaltzy way, a couple in love and the toll that mental illness takes on a relationship. We care about both of them, and the film is empathetic to each side of the equation. Would we stay with a partner who's showing a total, scary breakdown? Chastain shows how, in a very human, not quite saint like way. The story is much like a Kitchen sink, down to earth version of The Shining, without the grotesque horror or gallows humor. It's to the credit of the film that up to the end, we wonder if there is actually an apocalypse coming. The final moment when the family comes out of the storm shelter is intensely dramatic and suspenseful.
Though Take Shelter requires some intense concentration, it will be rewarded. This film is well deserving of its accolades and I'm excited to see what Michael Shannon and Jeff Nichols (and Jessica Chastian) do next.
Director: Jeff Nichols
Summary: Michael Shannon stars in this thriller as a small-town family man who, determined to protect his wife and deaf daughter from impending disaster, builds an impenetrable storm shelter in the safety of his own backyard.
Summary: "A dark haunting story. It ended right where I was wanting to see more. Michael Shannon is one of those acotor's that can play any role, I love watching him on screen. The movie is creepy and suspenseful. It's a slow burning story, and it's a good burn. I liked the anticipation of the ending. To finding out if he's really losing his shit or foreseeing the future. Great film."
Michael Shannon was amazing as a man who knows that he may be going crazy but has no power to stop it from happening. I can't wait to see more from this guy.
The end of the flick was great and exactly what I wanted.
Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.
Take Shelter is just an all around incredibly unique, beautiful and haunting film. Essentially it is a drama but there is so many layers to this film. It is beautifully shot, some really stunning cinematography, it tells a story that has a post apocalyptic undertone but does so without flashy special effects or a big budget. Honestly Take Shelter must be seen to be believed. In many ways it is slow paced, a character study of a family moving towards crisis but the performances are so riveting and the concept of the film so fascinating that you literally can't take your eyes off of it.
Michael Shannon is absolutely brilliant. His performance is one of the best I have seen in months, at least. You watch his entire life break down and you will feel so much empathy for him as he moves towards a complete mental breakdown but you will also hope and wonder for him whether what he is experiencing is real. Jessica Chastain is also excellent as his devoted but concerned wife. Her character too goes through a lot in the course of the film and her and Shannon have really great chemistry. There is something very real about their marriage, not a timeless romance, but just very real and this circumstance threatens to tear them apart. Tova Stewart has a small but extremely important role and does very good as their deaf daughter who often seems disconnected from her peers. This is a powerful drama by sheer definition and a performance not to be missed by Shannon.
The first 20 - 30 minutes is tightly directed and punctuated by some good nightmare/hallucinatory scenes. Then, for some reason, they disappear for almost the remainder of the film. The pace slows down, and the tone becomes more observational and less impressionistic, at least until the final act. That inevitably makes the middle of the film drag, no matter how good it may be in and of itself. And tone, in general, is my biggest point of contention here. Nichols and company can't seem to figure out whether they want to be a typical "he is or isn't he crazy?" psychological drama, or something more (seems to me that the film is trying to be both). The big question is: are Curtis' dreams real or premonitions? If this were Inception or an M. Night Shyamalan brainteaser, it might turn this question into a cinematic puzzle. But while Nichols employs a handful of tried-and-true (and therefore always persuasive) shock effects to blur the viewer's sense of reality, there is something at stake beyond formal cleverness, and he often abandons that. The ambiguity that is so unbearable to Curtis - the sense that he might be losing his mind and also receiving omens of impending disaster - is crucial to the film's logic, yes, but by reveling in it, it's easy to take your eye off the prize with respect to thematic concerns.
Paranoia and uncertainty permeate our culture (Fox News makes hundreds of millions annually exploiting it). In my opinion, this is the core of what Take Shelter is about. This is a film that should be looked at more figuratively than literally, but by implementing a literal dream vs. reality plot, that's asking a lot from the viewer. What you're left with is (dare I say) a schizophrenic film that hits a lot of notes, but not all of them.