Rated R for some language
Moral Rating: ★★★☆☆
While I enjoy a good blockbuster film as much as any average viewer, independent films are what really interest me in the entertainment world. Generally deeper and more poignant films, independent films are required by lack of budget to rely on acting and story-telling for success. In "Take Shelter", a surprise hit from the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Michael Shannon delivers a stunning performance as a mentally tortured construction worker named Curtis. Shannon has recently appeared on the celebrity radar with his terrific supporting role in "Revolutionary Road" and his upcoming appearance as General Zod in "Man of Steel" - the Zach Snyder directed Superman reboot.
In "Take Shelter", Curtis and his wife Sam live a simple life in an unspecified rural American town raising their deaf daughter Hannah and trying to make the most out their circumstances and surroundings. Things begin to change when Curtis starts having intense dreams of an oncoming apocalyptic storm. As the dreams become more frequent and more realistic, Curtis' behavior towards his family and coworkers rapidly changes. As Curtis tries to sort through these freakish visions he begins to build a storm shelter in his back yard in preparation. The catch is, he isn't sure that it is actually coming or not. Tensions mount as Sam, portrayed by 2011's hottest new actress Jessica Chastain (also seen in The Tree of Life and The Help), begins to doubt her husband's motives. The audience discovers that Curtis's family has a history of mental illness, so we are always uncertain of the validity of these dreams. I cannot reveal too much more without giving away the plot, but "Take Shelter" slowly builds until an incredibly emotional and intense climax.
Without a doubt, Michael Shannon is the star of this show. Under the direction of Jeff Nichols ("Shotgun Stories") Shannon builds a sense of paranoia in a very real way. Upon viewing "Take Shelter" I could see why he is quickly becoming a hot commodity in Hollywood. Shannon often says more in scenes without dialogue than those containing it. As a character who is trying desperately to protect his family, we see the turmoil in Curtis' eyes as he battles his own mind. The struggle is rooted in the question 'Do I protect my family from an apocalyptic storm that I believe is coming, or from myself?' I found myself switching sides quite often throughout the film, thanks to Shannon's incredible performance. The dreams, horrific in their loud sound editing, shocking violence and darkness, are effective at shaking up the audience in addition to Curtis. And indeed, we can see that something is amiss by the intensity of these visions!
Another shout out belongs to the score composer David Wingo. Cleverly utilizing minimalist strings and percussion, he often creates the effect of wind chimes in his score. Never loud or prominent, the score is just active enough to get under your skin. Subtle enough that you don't notice its presence, perhaps to give us that constant sense of dread that Curtis experiences in the film. While it reminded me at times of James Newton Howard's score to "Signs", Wingo is a fresh face in the movie music world and a good match for the thematic material of "Take Shelter".
In conclusion, you'll notice that I did not reveal many plot points. And this is something important to note! If you are looking for a thought-provoking drama/thriller, then "Take Shelter" is for you - but it is best to enter the theater knowing nothing more than what I've told you. Much of the tension and effectiveness of this film is in the audience's own doubts and perceptions. While not for children (there are a handful of f-words towards the middle of the film) I DO recommend "Take Shelter" for older audiences. Refreshing in a market awash with cinematic cliches, Michael Shannon's award-worthy performance in "Take Shelter" is not to be missed!
The REAL Bowman