10/17/11

Review: Take Shelter (2011)


Jeff Nichols's Take Shelter is a brilliant, hypersuspenseful, ominous, serious tour-de-force through human psyches, most notably Michael Shannon's Curtis's and his wife Samantha's (Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life, The Debt). Both are wonderful characters in balance with each other and the story in amazing performances from each actor.

I had very little idea what the film was about before seeing it, but was willing to go along and find out what was in store. Immediately, the film is gripping, frightening, mysterious, commonplace in focus and yet utterly unique. In retrospect, it reminds me of a number of other great films, but none so much that they rate specific mention as overwhelmingly influential on Take Shelter.

While being thrilling moment by moment, the film also feels very original and earned through the quality of the script, the style of storytelling, the characters and the story. You won't be able to put it down.

Shannon's Curtis is a construction worker in rural small-town Ohio, laconic to the point of autistic--or perhaps some other diagnosis? He supervises the operation of lots of heavy machinery with a small crew, sometimes only one other worker, his friend Dewart (Shea Whigham, Machete, Wristcutters: A Love Story, excellent). Curtis has a beautiful wife, Samantha, and a beautiful daughter (Tova Stewart), with whom he is learning to share more and more communication through sign language, as his daughter is deaf.

Then there are the dreams. Curtis is afflicted more and more with insomnia, bad dreams and other related disturbing events. And are these ever bad dreams! Each is visually stunning as presented, horrific, universal and terrible, and not story cheats but perhaps prophecies.

The dreams have common themes which begin to run through his waking life as well (and yet each dream still feels like an authentic dream). He takes actions based upon them which seem to threaten or burden his and his family's future. He doubts his own sanity, and looks for help with it. He starts remodelling the storm shelter in the backyard.

Getting too much further into the plot would not be doing a service to anyone, but the set-up is enthralling and the finish well justified, though at first I was a little skeptical. It has a certain type of ending, which is open to interpretation, but feels to me in dramatic alignment with all that has come before. I admire it.

Director of photography Adam Stone's muted autumn palette is perfect for the time of year when it has been released, as well as for dramatic effect, and the soundtrack of bells, chimes, strings and dusty guitar notes from composer David Wingo is a thing of beauty entirely emotionally connected to the film. Writer/director Nichols has assembled a fantastic filmmaking team to make a great work of art. You could watch it for Halloween or anytime.

Go and see Take Shelter. I haven't had a better time at the movies this year, and this movie gets my first four-star dramatic film review of the year. (I have it in second place overall after Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3-D.) Shannon's and Chastain's are the outstanding performances of the film and of the year. Here's a cave full of troubling remembered dreams.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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