Sunday, November 6, 2011
Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols' sophomore feature, is one of the year's best films. (His debut, Shotgun Stories, also features Michael Shannon in the lead and is likewise also fantastic.) Take Shelter possesses a heavy atmosphere, leading us through Curtis' (Shannon) delusions, paranoia and compulsions about a potential and impending apocalyptic event.
Clues along the way point towards him being schizophrenic (his mother was diagnosed when she was around his age), however, the real strength of the film is that it provides no easy answers. Yes, Curtis is having hallucinations, but many of his symptoms, such as his vivid, frequent nightmares don't necessarily mesh with the mental illness hypothesis.
The film ultimately ends up at a grand conclusion that also provides few definitive answers. Our protagonist is obviously unreliable, so being able to decipher truth from events happening to him is difficult, if not impossible, so we are left somewhat in his shoes - not knowing what is reality and what is delusion.
Shannon delivers a powerful performance. He's known for taking on peculiar roles, such as his part in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire", but he never goes overboard like he does there. Despite Curtis' difficulties, Shannon is able to play them with reserved horror and frustration, before his major, chilling blowup in the third act. Not considering him highly for a Best Actor Oscar here would be a crime.
Shea Whigham, also of "Boardwalk Empire" fame, gives a solid supporting performance as Curtis' friend and co-worker. Also of note is Jessica Chastain, who plays Curtis' concerned, yet supporting wife. Chastain's has really become quite a sought-after actress of late, but until Take Shelter I never really got a sense of her abilities. She's shot beautifully in Tree of Life and there's evidence of a good actress there, but the performance is minimal. I saw her in Coriolanus, but she doesn't have the best command of Shakespeare to make for a good showing. Take Shelter sold me on her - I wouldn't protest if she garnered some sort of nomination here.
The score is also solid. It's unique, eerie, persistent and matched the film perfectly, really driving home the semi-classic-horror aspects. In some ways, Take Shelter reminding me of Peter Weir's The Last Wave. I think that when I read the description of the film some years ago before viewing it, Take Shelter is, in a lot of ways, similar to the film I'd imagined The Last Wave would be. That's not a knock against it - it's still a great film - but something more akin to Take Shelter is what I really wanted. Now I have it and I'm satisfied.