Movie Review: Take Shelter

One would be hard pressed to find a more quiet, intimate, or stirring drama this year than Take Shelter, a new film from writer-director Jeff Nichols. Starring the excellent Michael Shannon, Take Shelter is a devastating portrait of mental illness in modern America. Although the film’s slow pace may deter some, Shannon’s world-class performance is truly magnificent to witness.

Take Shelter takes place in Ohio and follows the story of Curtis LaForche (Shannon). Although Curtis certainly lives modestly, he has a loving family and a steady job as a construction worker. Curtis is a strong and silent type, but we see his soft side through interactions with his deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart) and his loving wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain). The film takes its time setting up the plot, allowing the viewer a chance to connect with the central characters before everything comes crashing violently down.

Michael Shannon stars in "Take Shelter"

When Curtis begins to have vivid nightmares, he starts to worry that they may be caused by a mental illness. We later learn that Curtis’s mother is a paranoid schizophrenic, which perhaps explains Curtis’s odd behavior. Curtis’s dreams are vivid pictures of doom; storms swirl violently in the sky, masked villains attack his daughter, and his own dog nearly chews through his leg. Although he recognizes that these hallucinations may simply be the visions of a schizophrenic, Curtis is also convinced that his dreams are prophecies which will come true. This conflicting feeling is the center of the film, as well as a sad reality which afflicts millions of people with mental illness.

As Curtis’s nightmares progressively worsen, he begins to take action. With no regard for his work, friends, or family, Curtis devotes nearly all his time to building a secure hurricane shelter in his backyard. Nichols balances these heartbreakingly realistic scenes with Curtis’s vivid nightmares, sometimes blurring the line between the two. The film’s expert pacing picks up drastically towards the end, resulting in an unforgettable climax. The film’s final scene has been debated all over the internet but I won’t spoil it here.

However, as stunning as the entirety of Take Shelter is, the film will ultimately be remembered for Shannon’s incredible performance. Not since Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight have I seen such conviction and intensity in a role. Shannon deserves an Oscar for his work here and has taken another step towards becoming a premier American actor.

Take Shelter is now playing in limited release. 

-Ben Klein, Editor In Chief 

Posted by on October 25, 2011. Filed under Arts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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