Saturday, April 27, 2013

Take Shelter: A Review

 "…listen up, there's a storm coming like nothing you've ever seen, and not a one of you is prepared for it."

Today, when someone has dreams of impending doom we tend to think the person is, if not insane, then not quite right in the head. However, long ago, if you had strange dreams about an upcoming storm or the end of the world, you may be crazy or you may be a saint. When John wrote about his revelations, early Christian church fathers took his writings and made them the last book of the New Testament. When Noah told friends and family about an upcoming flood, his neighbors thought he was crazy, but they were wrong. Early civilizations had a term for those who saw visions; they called them Shamans, today we call these people delusional. "Take Shelter" is the writer and director Jeff Nichols' second film since his critically acclaimed 2007 offering titled "Shotgun Stories." "Take Shelter" is about a man who in the prime of his life is questioning not only his purpose in life as a husband and father but also his sanity. 

Michael Shannon ("Bug," "Shotgun Stories," Boardwalk Empire") stars in "Take Shelter" as Curtis LaForche, a young family man who lives in rural Ohio. Curtis's wife Samantha, is played by Jessica Chastain ("The Debt," "The Tree of Life") who, like any wife and mother, is the rock that holds their home together. Their child Hannah (Tova Stewart), is about four-years-old and is deaf. Going about his day as a construction worker, Curtis starts to slowly, and insidiously focus on storms on the horizon. The flat landscape provides a beautiful panorama view of ominous clouds forming on the horizon. Director Nichols slowly and carefully builds a sense of foreboding and impending doom throughout the film not with frenzied camera shots and quick editing, but with long shots of Shannon's face and the look of worry, conflict, and deep-rooted fear. Couple these scenes with vivid nightmares that Curtis experiences of people covered in this oily rain substance trying to kill him. Curtis even envisions his dog, Red, turning on him and practically biting his arm off. As these dreams occur, his obsession with preparing his storm shelter grows, while Curtis withdraws into himself as he contemplates his own mental state. 

As it turns out when Curtis was 10 years-old his mother (Kathy Baker) had to be committed to a mental institution. Of course, Curtis is worried that he is going down the same path. Nightmares, panic attacks, lack of sleep, visions of the horrible storm that rains an oily substance that drives people mad. Of course, he is worried. Michael Shannon plays Curtis in such a believable way, that the audience will feel his worry, his fear, and ultimately his shame. Jessica Chastain plays his wife Samantha that is also believable. A stay at home mom, Samantha's primary role is to care for and teach their daughter how to sign and fit into this world. She also sells her needlecraft and sewing on the weekends to help financially. The LaForches seem to be a typical modern mid-western family whose goals are the simple things in life, like paying their bills and trying to get a surgery for their daughter so that she may have a chance of hearing. Of course, Curtis's obsession gets in the way of all this. 

This is not an action adventure thriller. "Take Shelter" is a film for those who like to see the actor's emotions, feel their feelings, and watch a story unfold while they reflect what they may do in the main character's place. The film builds up quietly to a point before the end where the family is at Lion's Club dinner, a former co-worker (Curtis is fired from his job) antagonizes him about his obsession. After taking a few licks from his former friend, Curtis erupts in a fit of rage and tells all present that he is not crazy and to "…listen up, there's a storm coming like nothing you've ever seen, and not one of you is prepared for it." 

Jeff Nichols's story is clever and although I'm not a "doomsday prepper" myself, however, it is not hard to imagine that there is something bad on the horizon. After all, something has to give and 2012 is the year for it. This is a great film for those who like stories about everyday people who must rise above the ordinary.

Movie Data

Genre: Drama, Thriller
Year: 2011
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain
Director: Jeff Nichols
Producer(s): Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin,
Writer: Jeff Nichols
Rating: R
Running Time: 121 minutes
Release Date: 11/10/2011

Originally posted on Yahoo Voices on Feb 23, 2012

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