Director: Jeff Nichols
Screenplay: Jeff Nichols
Producer: Sophia Lin, Tyler Davidson
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham
Runtime: 120 min.
Where is the line between fear and paranoia? Is the former objective, and the latter subjective? Is it a matter of perspective? Certainty or uncertainty? Or is the quest for the justification of either inane?
Take Shelter is a film that is steeped in realistic, atmospheric tension, not unlike the masterworks of Alfred Hitchcock, Werner Herzog, and Terrence Malick. For this, I am quite certain that I cannot adequately describe the film without detracting from its impact on the viewer. At its very core, it is a film about the gradual devolution into paranoia of a blue-collar family man, crafted through the lens of suburbia and nightmares.
The narrative seamlessly weaves from lush landscapes and friendly faces to nightmarish storms and paranoid delusions, and these visuals are as much a character within Take Shelter as any of its cast. We are given intermittent glimpses into the real world interactions of Curtis (Shannon), Samantha (Chastain), and Hannah (Stewart) with their Midwestern peers, as well as joining Curtis in his waking nightmares that set the tone from beginning to end. While we are almost always aware of where Curtis et al actually are, the gradual dissolving of the boundaries between real and unreal is bizarre and wonderful. David Wingo’s haunting score and Adam Stone’s camerawork cannot be overpraised here.
As strong as the visuals and plot progression may be, there is no brighter star in Take Shelter than Michael Shannon. His internalized struggle brings out masterful use of body language and facial tics, evoking sympathies with the minutest of gestures. The sense of love and affection between Shannon and his wife and daughter is palpable, yet strained … and entirely heartfelt and realistic. Much of this is due to the strong turns of Chastain and the young Stewart, who make up for comparatively meager screen time with powerful emotions and general affability. For my money, neither Shannon nor Chastain have ever been better.
Finding faults in the film is incredibly difficult, though I will suggest that the ending is something of a misfire – its almost a bastardization of the true climax of the film, leaving an awkwardly ambiguous stamp on the film. I suppose it fits in with the overall feel of the film, but it still doesn’t quite fit within the plot’s progression.
Regardless, Take Shelter is easily one of the strongest films of 2011, and I would be shocked if it didn’t have Oscar nominations aplenty.