Written & Directed by Jeff Nichols
As this year slowly evolved in film I began realizing more and more that it has been a pretty darn good year in movies. There are a number of films that have already come out before the “Oscar season” of the fall. However, in the recent months leading up to that season there has been a little bit of a slowdown in my opinion. Or at least there have been fewer films that have piqued my interest to go out to the theater to see. But then there is Take Shelter, which is a film that has a limited release and comes out just on the verge of Oscar season. It has received positive buzz, and I can understand given the fact that the film stars Michael Shannon and the breakout star of the year, Jessica Chastain, that beautiful redhead who has been in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, The Help, and even starred in the latest Helen Mirren film, The Debt.
Shannon plays a hardworking family man from rural northeast Ohio named Curtis. He has a good life, and even his friend Dewart (Shea Whigham) says so. Despite the difficulties of having a deaf daughter, Curtis loves his daughter and his beautiful wife Sam (Chastain). But Curtis begins having extremely realistic nightmares that always start with a storm. They drive him to make brash life decisions, like building out the storm shelter in the backyard, and he soon alienates himself from those that love him the most. As he moves closer and closer to the paranoia that sent his mother into a home, Curtis warns everybody of an impending storm.
What attracted me the most about this film was definitely Michael Shannon in the lead role. A few years ago Shannon made a slight wave in the mainstream of film when he garnered a Best Suppoting Actor nomination for his portrayal of an overly frank young man in Sam Mendes’ film Revolutionary Road. Ever since then I have had my eye on his work and I was able to see the 2007 film Shotgun Stories, which was also written and directed by Jeff Nichols, who wrote and directed this film, and it also had Michael Shannon in the lead role. The combination seems natural and the idea of Shannon, who I can only assume is a very nice, and very normal man in his actual life, playing a character who is going slightly mad seems to only make sense for what he has done to this point in his career And he delivers one of the better performances I have seen so far this year.
What really makes this film as watchable as it is, even with the slow, methodical pace of the plot, is the relationship of Curtis and Sam. And if Shannon if great, Jessica Chastain is really good here as well. It is remarkable to see the type of year she has had to this point. She is a little bit older than the prototypical newcomer/breakout star, but she has burst onto the scene with some great performances, this one included. The relationship between the two, as well as with their daughter, is so tender in its portrayal of love, which makes the fact that Curtis keeps his demons from Sam for so long so heartbreaking. Surely that line of communication was and is always open between the two because they seem so happy.
Jeff Nichols takes his time with the narrative, which really serves in creating an ominous and edgy mood, but that also means that some will be bored while others will be enveloped. The minimal score also compliments this style and the slow development of the horrors of Curtis’ dream is really fascinating to watch. It seems as though he dreams of a conflict between himself and the ones he loves, subsequently pushing them away when they are the ones that he needs the most as he faces the road to paranoid schizophrenia. The film serves as a good examination of the development of mental illness. It is not as taut and amazingly effective as to call it a masterpiece, but it is really good, really solid outing for Nichols, and perhaps a great one for Shannon and Chastain.