Take Shelter fascinates on several levels as a psychological thriller. Powered by a spooky, urgent performance by Michael Shannon, an actor whose eyes look as if they’ve seen all the pain of humankind since the beginning of recorded history, it proves unforgettable.
Those soulful peepers serve Shannon, a Lexington, Ky. native, well in this film that builds to a slow boil as it explores whether a young man, husband and father can actually see the future or whether he’s slowly sinking into mental illness. The fact that director-writer Jeff Nichols makes us consider the former is a testament to his skill as a filmmaker-storyteller and Shannon’s as an actor.
He portrays Curtis, a hard working guy married to Samantha (Jessica Chastain) who also has a daughter with a hearing problem, who has issues. He begins to have dreams, envision assorted tragedies involving his wife, daughter and others around him.
Those visions, which he keeps secret, begin to consume him and his behaviors start to change – gradually at first, but more so as the dreams intensify. Paranoia creeps in for Curtis and he’s drawn to a storm shelter built into the ground in his backyard.
He slowly begins to refit it and even goes through the trouble of having a cargo storage container – the kind that goods are shipped overseas in – replace the small space that was there.
He wonders. We wonder. Can there be something more to this?
When we learn that his mother (portrayed by Kathy Baker) is in an assisted living facility because she’s a paranoid schizophrenic, we can’t help but believe that Curtis is slowly slinking toward that dark place where his mother fights to stay far from.
He recognizes it in himself and eventually his behavior begins to affect his job performance and his personal relationships, including those with his wife and daughter.
The logical assumption to make is that Curtis indeed does have mental illness, but with Nichols’ deft hand and words we are never sure.
His script draws us to Curtis, the story hypnotizes and he takes advantage of that effect in the movie’s climactic end when until the very last moment the doubt remains. This is no popcorn flick; it’s a look directly into the eyes of one man’s fight and we’re given the up-close-and personal perspective as to what it looks like.
Shannon serves as our tour guide and in today’s acting realm there are few that can match him for skill and presence. He’s chameleon-like in what he can do on the screen – big or small. Fans of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire who know him as Agent Nelson Van Alden know exactly what’s meant by that.
It would be criminal not to give kudos to the supporting cast because they deserve it, but make little mistake Take Shelter belongs to Shannon and Nichols.
Movie: Take Shelter
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Kathy Baker
Studio: Sony Classics
Rated: R(for some language)
Running time: 120 minutes
George’s rating: 4-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Cleveland Cinemas