Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Take Shelter

The first shot in the eerily absorbing Take Shelter shows a man outside his quaint American heartland home as he is caught in a sudden downpour-- raindrops coming down with the color of motor oil.  Something's clearly afoot here in this paranoid, end of days art house chamber piece.  Directed by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories), and starring Michael Shannon, it's the large quiet moments that matter most, distilling a texture of a modern, alienated man trying to keep his hold on reality.  In fact, Take Shelter, while perhaps best described as a thriller, is almost totally silent and a bit demanding, but builds unnervingly well to the patient moviegoer.  Not just a mad stormy weather piece, nor man gone crazy drama, but a meditation on modern struggles and recession-era stress.  Whatever the point, Nichols elegantly builds the films terrors beautifully, and Shannon, while certainly in his comfort zone in playing a zonked, mentally unstable man (think of Bug, his Oscar-nominated supporting turn in Revolutionary Road and nearly everything else on his resume) gives an altogether raw and impassioned performance that both elevates the film in it's reality-based horrors, and connects on a larger chord to the masses who struggle to keep both feet firmly planted on the floor.

Plagued by nightmares, hallucinations and really bad weather, Curtis (Shannon), a hard-working construction worker with a lovely and dutiful wife (Jessica Chastain) is having a rough go at it.  Seeing imposing clouds in the sky (and wondering if it's just him seeing them), distraught of the woes of not being able to provide for and protect his family, Curtis is spiraling down a rabbit hole of paranoia and fear.  Sensing that his dreams may be prophetic as well as a sure sign of complete madness, he spends the majority of the film trying to maintain order.  That's part of the trick of the movie and the masterful quality of Shannon's performance.  Where is this coming from?  Could it possibly be genetic-- his mother (Kathy Baker) was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at his age.  Could it be financial-- he's kind of struggling at work, and bills need to be paid, as well as his deaf daughter's looming surgery-- yes there are quite of bit of squirmy plot points, but they never overtake the film thankfully. 

Curtis' master plan to solve all: to build an immense storm shelter in his back yard.  Whatever the case, or whatever the outcome, the thrills of Take Shelter are the quiet gestures of Curtis trying to maintain his stability-- he even seeks counseling.  Fears of ending up like mum and abandoning his family come to surface as well. For her part, Chastain matches Shannon's intensity with her soft sensitivity; a bit like the other side of the coin to the idealized motherlyness she brought to The Tree of Life; she's down to earth, maturely level-headed and filled with the natural humanity of an average hard-working wife and mom.  She makes curtains and pillows for extra household cash and she's nurturing to her husband's strange behavior till the point of breakdown.  What builds, and I'm hasty to give much away, is a climax that's as unsettling but tenderly earned.  Take Shelter beautifully drifts its audience in with artistic gracefulness.  B+

1 comment:

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