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Take Shelter (2011)

November 4, 2011

10/10 Heavy Rains

Now that’s how you teach an old dog new tricks.

Take Shelter is about a blue-collar guy from Ohio with a good family, a good job, and a good life. Unbeknownst to his wife, his daughter, or his co-workers, this blue-collar guy starts having recurring nightmares and daymares of an apocalyptic storm that no one is prepared for or aware of. The more he tries to control the visions with medication and therapy, the more vivid and foreboding they continue to get. Despite his family’s history of mental illness and despite what everyone else is saying about him, he becomes convinced that this is not just him going crazy. So at the risk of his good family, his good job, and his good life, he begins overhauling the tornado shelter in his backyard to prep for something that might never even come.

The downside of making a “maybe he’s crazy, maybe he’s not” movie is that it’s not the most original premise out there. We’ve all seen it before and is has its high points and low points just like every other premise out there that gets recycled ad nauseum. The upside of the matter is that it’s a proven formula that keeps people coming back because even the most disinterested of parties can’t help but wonder what the payoff is gonna be. With that being said, I’ve seen movies like Take Shelter before, but by the same token, I’ve never seen them done like this.

It’s the sophomore effort by writer/director Jeff Nichols, and I feel mighty stupid right now for all those times I bumped down his debut, Shotgun Stories, on my Netflix queue. With each new scene, it became that much clearer that this is a guy who knows how to film, knows how to write, and knows what he’s doing. When the visions are occurring, you can’t take your eyes off them. When the visions aren’t occurring, he lets his cast take charge of his flawless script and you can’t take your eyes off them either. When his characters have conversations, it’s on a need-to-know basis. They don’t beat around the bush and scream ’til they’re lungs collapse, they just get to the point with their indoor voices and receive an equally terse reaction that’s as genuine as it is effective. I love that about Jeff Nichols as a director and I love that about this script. It never ceases to amaze me how much you can say with so little and it’s so refreshing to see characters who embody that principle.

But the thing you’re probably wondering about and thing I’ll get to right now is what makes this movie a 10? Unfortunately, what floored me about this movie isn’t something I can put into words. In a vain effort to try and do just that, it was like an invisible force was sitting on my chest by the first half-hour, and by the last ten minutes, I felt like I was being flat-out bear-hugged. I don’t know about you, but that’s a rare sensation to get hit with at any time or place. See, with each new vision and each new consequence it has for our protagonist, the more invested we become in his life and the more we so badly want to believe that the apocalypse is on its way. Unless you’re Harold Camping, it’s a crazy win-lose mindset for an audience member to be in, and, holy hell, is it effective in developing a sense of impending doom and quiet terror that goes from lingering to inescapable over the course of two very intense hours. Nichols seamlessly transitions the story from dream to reality to something in between, and the desired effect of making you feel just as disoriented and concerned as Michael Shannon is thoroughly engrossing and then some.

And as far as Michael Shannon is concerned, they should just give him the Oscar already and save the other four actors some disappointment come February. What I love about his character, Curtis, is that even with everything he’s experiencing and the effects it has on his day-to-day life, there’s never a time where you look at him and think, “This guys is nuts.” He knows how everyone will react if he starts getting vocal and he knows he could be turning into a paranoid schizophrenic like his mother, so to save everyone from worrying, he bottles it up and covers his bases by trying to cure what’s going on in his head while preparing for the worst. It’s a very un-Hollywood approach to the character and it’s a very true-to-life one at that. Tere is a lot going with Curtis and a lesser man would be living in padded cell, and as far as casting is concerned, Shannon was the perfect choice to be put in Curtis’ shoes.

It doesn’t hurt to have one of the toughest, most chiseled faces in Hollywood, but even if his head was a big pink ball of Silly Putty, Michael Shannon and his all-seeing eyes would still command Curtis with a subtle strength and controlled fury like no other. When you see him action, you won’t be able to imagine anyone else in the role, and when Curtis finally reaches his limit, Shannon quickly cements himself as the powerhouse he is. I know that word gets thrown around all willy-nilly in movie reviews, but “powerhouse” is beyond accurate for a movie and performance like this. It really is amazing what he does here, and since his scene-stealing turn in Revolutionary Road wasn’t quite enough to make him a household name, hopefully this will do the trick before his turn as General Zod in Man of Steel gets everyone on the bandwagon.

Continuing with the “powerhouse” theme, the power that this movie carries is overwhelming in the best way possible, and Shannon carries it easily with some added help from Jessica Chastain as his wife, Samantha. In a turn that further establishes 2011 as the best year of her life, Chastain more than holds her own opposite Shannon and the growth between their characters is really what ties the whole movie together. Just as Curtis’ inner struggles are more than enough to glue you to the screen, the same can be said for his relationship with Sam who’s firmly grounded in reality and just trying to understand what’s going on with her emotionally elusive husband. It’s also the one element about this picture that leaves you with a moral besides, “Sometimes it pays to listen to the village lunatic.” For a movie that’s so wildly surreal in its implications and visuals, it’s fantastic how human and authentically dramatic it manages to be throughout.

I feel like I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately that have left me disappointed because things didn’t “come together” in the long run. Maybe this was karma paying me back for all those hours I spent writing about movies that left me fishing for compliments, but Take Shelter is pretty much the antithesis of all those letdowns. I watch a movie like this and I wonder why more film makers don’t operate like Jeff Nichols in regards to straightforward writing, imagery that speaks volumes, and pairing characters with a perfect cast. From the score that’s riddled with wind chimes to the very last shot that’s guaranteed to get you chatting, it’s just stunning how effective this movie is in everything it does. I don’t know if this review did the Verdict justice, but for my second “10” of the year, this sucker earned it.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2011 9:39 am

    Great review and you obviously have good taste in filmic ambiguity! Check out my equally glowing review though my enthusiasm is more directed toward Shannon as Curtis (Best Actor?)

    • November 7, 2011 8:12 am

      Thanks! Will definitely check out your take and thanks for stopping by!

  2. November 4, 2011 11:48 pm

    I had a weird, frustrating reaction to TAKE SHELTER. I’ve read a lot of hugely positive reviews that praise the performances, the atmosphere, the cinematography, the phenomenal score and the thought provoking metaphor. I don’t disagree with any of that, and I even said as much in my own write-up. And yet I couldn’t love it. After the amazingly intense dream sequences near the beginning, I felt there was a real lull in the middle (before the amazing dual climaxes, which I won’t say a bad word about). I appreciate the film, but even after a second watch, it just seems to miss the mark.

    • November 7, 2011 8:17 am

      That’s okay, man. You gave it your best shot. Hard to deny the cast, the direction, and the score for that matter, but I just loved everything it did, especially the little things like Shannon asking “Is anyone else seeing this?” when he pulls over to watch the lightning storm. I could go on, but I was a huge fan. Bummer that it didn’t resonate with you on the same level, but you can’t win ’em all.

      Also, how did you go about getting on Rotten Tomatoes, homey?

  3. Crystal permalink
    November 7, 2011 6:44 am

    Ha! I was just thinking of this movie the other night and couldn’t remember the title of it. I had read Ebert’s review a little while back and it seemed right up my alley (totally can’t wait to see Melancholia) so yeah, now it’s so on. Lol thanks for the review!!!

    • November 7, 2011 8:18 am

      Thanks! It was something else alright, definitely gotta seek it out. Got a Melancholia review coming up for this week. Some awfully depressing shit.

  4. November 20, 2011 8:18 pm

    Awesome review! I am so excited to see this, it isn’t out in the UK until this Friday…only 5 days to wait!! But seriously Michael Shannon is incredible, if the hype is well-founded – which I am sure it is – surely another Oscar nomination is on its way!

    I’d highly recommend watching and reviewing Another Earth, incredible stuff. Check out my last post – a review of Another Earth if you’d like 🙂

    • November 28, 2011 8:38 am

      Thanks! Shannon deserves to win that freakin’ Oscar, but something tells me that’s gonna be a hard sell to the masses that missed out on this. And I’m bummed I missed out on Another Earth, sounded like a pretty cool idea for a movie. Will report back and thanks for visiting!

  5. February 11, 2012 8:40 pm

    I had no idea about this film! I’m a massive storm junkie, and I owe this obsession to the fact I’ve been plagued by apocalyptic tornadoes in my dreams ever since I can remember…really looking forward to watching it…great review!

    • March 23, 2012 11:46 am

      Good gravy, then you are gonna connect with this movie on a level I can’t even imagine. Thanks and hope you dig it!

  6. February 24, 2012 9:49 am

    The ending WAS completely befuddling! I am big on interiors in films, and I definitely thought this one had some of the best. Everything else fantastic as well, of course, but your review is more than enough to describe all that. I love the main character , he’s definitely my kinda guy. Can’t say same for wife, she’s a bit on the sensitive side and that pretty well irritated me but everything else more than made up for that.

    • March 23, 2012 11:45 am

      Hell of a movie, huh? Love Michael Shannon and loved his character. The man can do no wrong.

  7. March 31, 2012 8:25 pm

    I thought Michael Shannon’s acting was good but I found Take Shelter too melodramatic and long.. not one I’d watch again.

    • April 2, 2012 11:33 am

      Aw, man. Sorry to hear that. Glad we can agree on Shannon, but this sucker blew me away. Well, can’t win ’em all, different strokes for different folks. Thanks for stopping by though!

  8. ChrisPeterson6914 permalink
    May 5, 2012 9:17 am

    This was, without a doubt, the dumbest movie ever.

    • May 6, 2012 3:04 pm

      Without a doubt?! Damn, you must be watching some pretty awesome movies then.


  1. The Best Movies of 2011: #20 – #1 « Cut The Crap Movie Reviews

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