Friday, September 30, 2011

Movie with Abe: Take Shelter

Take Shelter
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Released September 30, 2011

Mental illness is a complicated topic, and that’s part of the reason that it makes for such a fascinating subject for films. The trouble is that it often becomes an excuse to disregard reality or fail to explain what’s real and what’s not, leading to alternately lazy and confusing storytelling. That’s not the case in “Take Shelter,” a dark, heavy drama that follows Curtis (Michael Shannon) as he starts seeing visions of violent storms and launches an internal battle to determine how he can best take stock of his life and ensure that both he and his family are safe.

“Take Shelter” is, more than anything, a character study. Curtis, a construction worker, quickly realizes that he is the only one seeing tornadoes and thunderstorms gathering in the dust, and, unlike many such reality-challenged people, he decides that he should investigate the cause of these visions rather than simply accept them as truth. That doesn’t stop him, however, from putting extensive effort, both mental and physical, into making the tornado shelter in his backyard useable and up-to-date, preparing for the worst just as he knows that what he’s most afraid of is probably just in his head. That dichotomy of belief is what makes Curtis into a fascinating lead.

Michael Shannon, who broke out with an Oscar nomination for playing another man on the verge of insanity in “Revolutionary Road” and has since been portraying the captivating Agent Nelson Van Alden on “Boardwalk Empire,” delivers his finest performance to date as Curtis, establishing him as a solitary man who yearns to fit into society even if the thought of it doesn’t appeal to him, mostly for the sake of his wife and deaf daughter. Jessica Chastain plays a different kind of long-suffering wife than she did in “The Tree of Life” earlier this year, offering depth and personality to an otherwise unimportant character.

“Take Shelter” contains top-notch performances and a compelling story, but where it really excels is in its visual representations of the storms Curtis imagines. Those chilling sights are marvelously accompanied by an eerie score that gives the film a tense feel that keeps the audience on the edge of its seat for the duration of the film. The conclusion is staggering and just right for this particular story, and it makes for a haunting experience that isn’t easy to forget, delivering plenty to process and much to remember.


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