Genre: Psychological Thriller, Drama
Opens locally Friday, October 28th, 2011 (check for showtimes)
Run Time: 2 hours 4 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham
Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories)
If you don’t know who Michael Shannon is by name, you might at least recognize him from some of his recent work. He’s got the face only a mother could love, and has left his mark playing very weird, unpleasant, eccentric villains, like Agent Nelson on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” or his Oscar nominated performance in 2008’s “Revolutionary Road.” “Take Shelter” finally delivers Michael Shannon a starring role, and the subject matter is right in his creep zone. The crazy (literally) approach to the story is more of a showcase of his talents as an actor, and less of an actual complete film. It’s the kind of movie that I suspect is not for everyone.
Shannon plays Curtis, a small town man with a wife and a small daughter, who is deaf. He’s a crew chief making a modest living for a sand-mining company, and together they struggle to make ends meet and to cover their daughter’s special needs education. It’s not an easy life, but all seems quiet on the Midwestern front. That is, until Curtis starts having dreams…vivid nightmares, to be exact, of a coming storm. Don’t think tornado, think Apocalypse.
Curtis slowly unravels mentally, as does the movie. It’s a patient journey of growing paranoia, as Curtis begins to build an in-ground shelter in the back of his home, even illegally borrowing digging equipment from his job to get it done. Because he is so disturbed by his dreams, he chooses not to share them at first. But eventually he must, and he has such conviction that there is a coming disaster, that he will stop at nothing to get the bunker built in order to protect his family.
Of course, as the movie goes on, we know that his family actually needs to seek shelter from him.
Nobody in their right mind could pull off this character other than Michael Shannon. Think of him as a young Christopher Walken…before Walken became an over-acting ham…with a better speech pattern. If there was anybody truly born to play a certain role, this is it. He is more than convincing opposite this year’s break-out star, Jessica Chastain. With Shannon’s “Boardwalk Empire” co-star Shea Whigham, we are treated to a truly talented ensemble of future A-listers.
But the movie itself is slow and awkward, and uninteresting for long stretches. For a movie like this to really work, it would have been nice for there to be a time where we may actually believe that this paranoid dude may be correct, that maybe the Apocalypse is coming. This isn’t quite pulled off.
“Take Shelter” ultimately is a movie that takes us inside the headspace of a so-called “crazy” person…a day-in-the-life of a bona fide paranoid schizophrenic. As a character study it succeeds, but as a complete film it’s uneven and doesn’t quite reach a high level of interest or excitement. Call me crazy, but if I am to invest 2 hours into a character and a family’s predicament, I’m going to need more to care about…more at stake.