17 February 2012 | StevePulaski
A magnificent sleeper
Take Shelter is one of the most enriching and well made apocalyptic films I've seen since The Book of Eli. Not only does the art direction perfectly and naturally blend itself with the story, but the subtle and remarkable work of Michael Shannon and the slow, but intricate directing by Jeff Nichols work wonders for the pacing and the final outcome.
There's a grand difference between a story that takes forever to develop for a reason, and a story that takes forever to develop just because. Take Shelter lets its characters work their way into becoming recognizable human beings one step at a time. It's not one of those films that begins to get interesting during the second half because everything suddenly picks up. It's a film that starts out interesting because we are greeted with characters that have humanistic problems, and we are left contemplating the same characters who still occupy problems. It's a genius anomaly of filmmaking, and it's taken with great care here.
Another film that had that same sort of motto was Alexander Payne's The Descendants. Again, it followed the idea of letting its characters develop at a human-like pace before throwing in real climatic elements. Rarely do screenwriters want to create characters that slowly evolve into almost real characters. Most are too busy to jump right into "the good stuff." The story revolves around Curtis LaForche (Shannon), a Ohio construction worker living with his wife (Chastain) and their deaf daughter. Their house is on a wide stretch of land below a vast chunk of open sky. Curtis begins having very surreal and haunting nightmares about a forthcoming storm that has dark, ominous clouds and loud, rip-roaring thunder. In each of his dreams, something hurts him physically or mentally. In one, his own dog attacks him and he can almost feel the pain upon waking up.
Curtis seeks help from multiple doctors, while at the same time, he is trying to shield his dreams from his wife. Jessica Chastain, who has played a supporting role in several films in 2011, is pitch perfect. It's typical for films to sort of blacklist family members that are victim to a crisis caused by their spouse, son, etc. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the film completely missed its chance to give Sandra Bullock a fantastic performance as the mother. Instead they traded it for more shots of Thomas Horn's autistic character running around aimlessly in New York. Chastain slowly evolves into a true character, compliments of the screenplay. It's nice that the film tries to, not only formulate characters, but showcase their reaction and response to the main events as well.
Michael Shannon is terrific. Simply terrific. He plays the role of a delusional man, unable to decipher dreams from reality very well. He slowly goes insane, without ever being too comical, unbelievable, or over the top. Having a delusional character go over the top sometimes works if you have a capable, sophisticated actor, take Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss, who will bring justice to the role. If Shannon tried to go the Nicolas Cage route in Take Shelter, the film would've derailed faster than the storm coming in.
Why Take Shelter works so unrealistically well is because it forms sequences of forthcoming dread that can't be ignored. The art direction is some of the best I've seen this year, along with Another Earth (but that didn't succeed in storytelling this well). It also works coherently and wonderfully because Shannon is such a capable actor, always perfectly pulling off the tall, eerie man with pure force. I'll be damned if Take Shelter wasn't the most unsettling movie experiences in the last few years.
Starring: Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Directed by: Jeff Nichols.