Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: New Hilarious Red-Band Trailer For 'The Interview' Starring Seth Rogen And James Franco Watch: New Hilarious Red-Band Trailer For 'The Interview' Starring Seth Rogen And James Franco Fantastic Fest Review: Hitman Thriller 'John Wick' Starring Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe & Adrianne Palicki Fantastic Fest Review: Hitman Thriller 'John Wick' Starring Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe & Adrianne Palicki Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big  Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz Watch: First Trailer For Tim Burton's 'Big Eyes' Starring Amy Adams And Christoph Waltz 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' First Look: Cobie Smulders & Guy Pearce In Andrew Bujalski's 'Results' 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders Watch: Oscar Isaac And Jessica Chastain Are At War In First Trailer For 'A Most Violent Year' Watch: Oscar Isaac And Jessica Chastain Are At War In First Trailer For 'A Most Violent Year' Review: 'The Maze Runner' Starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson, Will Poulter And More Review: 'The Maze Runner' Starring Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Patricia Clarkson, Will Poulter And More Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” Exclusive: Matthew McConaughey Won’t Be Back For ‘Magic Mike XXL,’ Director Says Sequel Will Be “Very Different” David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' David Fincher Says He Shouldn't Have Directed 'The Game,' Dislikes Superhero Movies & Talks "Crazy" '20,000 Leagues' Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series Matt Damon & Paul Greengrass Are Returning To The 'Bourne' Series First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' First Look: Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt In 'By The Sea' The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival The Best, Worst And Most Disappointing Films Of The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 2 ‘The Good Listener’ The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Sundance '11 Review: 'Take Shelter' A Naturalistic, Novelistic Portrayal Of Madness & Apocalypse

The Playlist By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist January 27, 2011 at 9:46AM

From our reviews correspondent over at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, James Rocchi.
4


From our reviews correspondent over at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, James Rocchi.

Reuniting writer-director Jeff Nichols and actor Michael Shannon after their earlier 2007 “Shotgun Stories,” “Take Shelter” is the story of Curtis (Shannon), a husband and father whose sleep is wracked by uneasy dreams of omens and portents. Convinced the end is coming, Curtis starts obsessing about his backyard storm shelter, while his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) grows more and more concerned about his behavior. There’s a terrifying possibility that Curtis is going mad. There’s an even scarier possibility that he isn’t.

Much of “Take Shelter” unfolds with the underwater slowness of a bad dream, though a little editing before it hits theaters (the film was purchased before Sundance even began by Sony Pictures Classics) could go a long way. A slightly briefer running time would significantly help the mood and momentum of the film. At the same time, Nichol’s willingness to let his film happen -- to let things build, to make us travel alongside Curtis step by deliberate step -- is hypnotically engaging, pulling us into the film with the heavy, irrefutable tug of the tide.


“Take Shelter” evokes similar indie films -- “Room” from Kyle Henry or “The Rapture” by Michael Tolkin -- in its portrait of terrified obsession and the possibility of the end of all things. Alternately, imagine Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” without the Spielberg-softened predetermination that Dreyfuss’ character is, in fact, right in his irrational ways. Shannon is tense, burdened and silent -- he knows what he’s doing doesn’t make a lot of sense, but he can’t stop -- and when he finally caves an hour and ten minutes into the film to actually tell someone what’s going on in his mind, you feel the whole audience breathe a shuddering sigh of something like relief. The film's apocalyptic portents are spiritual, not religious. Curtis isn’t hearing trumpets or witnessing the opening of the seals, but he is confronted by signs and troubled by dreams until he, and we, begin to feel that if these nightmare visions come true, it’ll almost be a relief.

Shot on super 35 film, “Take Shelter” is meticulously composed and lensed. When Shannon drives past a supermarket, Nichols holds the shot perfectly so that we get the same subliminal message Shannon does; when Shannon retreats to his storm shelter to think in the darkness, the white-noise hiss of his Coleman lantern becomes a roar. The special effects -- supervised by Chris Wells -- are superbly executed within the film’s naturalism, whether fractal, frightening flocks of birds or howling world-ending storms.

While Shannon and Nichols clearly have a strong working relationship, the other performances make it clear that Nichols has the ability to work with other actors. Shea Wigham steals scenes as Shannon’s co-worker; familiar-face character actor Ray McKinnon has one impressive scene as Curtis’s concerned-yet-taciturn older brother; Kathy Baker, as Curtis’s mother, briefly demonstrates the stakes on the table for Curtis as he tries to figure out if his visions are mere madness. And Jessica Chastain -- in what could have been a thankless, one dimensional role as the I-love-you-but-you-scare-me wife of the male lead -- gives a strong and considered performance.

As the focus of the film, though, Shannon is as good as he always is. A lesser actor would have descended into ranting and shouting as swiftly as possible as Curtis falls into the grip of his fears. Shannon, instead, is silent and stolid for so long that a) you come to understand how much the effort of keeping things together is costing him and b) when he does finally crack, it’s a real moment and not a contrived one. Shannon’s performance is structured around conveying how much Curtis would rather not be going through this -- he’d stop if he could, but he can’t -- and that potential energy builds throughout the film until it is released.

Nichols likes to play with genre -- "Shotgun Stories” was a sideways take on a revenge saga, while “Take Shelter,” in other hands, could have been a flat-out horror film or psycho-thriller. Instead, it plays like a naturalistic American portrayal of madness and the apocalypse; for all of their terrors and bizarreness, Curtis’ visions nonetheless still seem more Normal Rockwell than Hieronymus Bosch. Curtis is worried that the world is ending, but we, and the other characters, worry just as much about Curtis destroying his life. As Kyle surveys his brother’s shelter expansion, and wonders about its cost, his concern is far more direct than any long-term concerns about the revelation: “You take your eye off the ball in this economy, you’re screwed.”

“Take Shelter” is almost novelistic in its approach to character and pace, but its ambitions and victories are strongly cinematic, and Shannon’s performance is the stuff bad dreams are made of -- human, frightened, fragile, hesitant. “Take Shelter” could benefit from a brief reduction in its running time, to be sure -- but as it stands, it’s still a slow-building silent scream that culminates in a moment designed to terrify and transfix just as expertly as it was calculated to send audiences into the lobby arguing about what it truly means. [A-]

This article is related to: Films, Actors, Actresses, Review, Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter, Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates