Take Shelter (2011)

Starring Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Natasha Randall, Ron Kennard, Scott Knisley, Robert Longstreet

Directed by Jeff Nichols

Expectations: Low, as I know nothing about this other than it’s about obsession, which is a subject I have an obsession with.


Take Shelter is a film I saw out of circumstance instead of desire. I happened to get off work a few hours early and decided to finally check out the hype surrounding Drive. Only problem was that Drive was only playing later in the day and I had about two hours to kill. This led me to check out Take Shelter in the meantime, as I had heard good things, and if there’s one constant theme I enjoy, it’s filmed obsession. I’m really glad this worked out the way it did, as Take Shelter is one of the best films I’ve seen all year.

Take Shelter focuses on Curtis (Michael Shannon) and how his dreams of a coming storm slowly begin to break down his life. He does his best to keep it all under wraps from his wife (Jessica Chastain) and his deaf daughter, but when his obsession over the nightly apocalyptic dreams starts to affect reality, it’s pretty hard not to notice. This is one that works really well not knowing much about it, so I’ll refrain from any more specifics.

I’ll just cut to the chase and be upfront about my feelings: if both Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain aren’t at least nominated for acting Oscars, it’ll be a crime against everything the craft of acting stands for. Their work in this film is nothing short of incredible, painting a realistic picture of two distinct people in a loving, tortured life together. Michael Shannon is a new revelation to me and I will definitely have to investigate his filmography a bit more. The guy masterfully creates a subtle character that harbors a budding mental illness, but is able to unleash some real emotion when the story dictates it. One scene in particular where a fight erupts at a town social function is remarkably well acted by Shannon and the cast of townspeople. Their looks of shock and fear were so real and intense that I wondered if the leads and the director kept the true nature of the scene from them prior to filming. In any case, the scene is fantastic.

As for Jessica Chastain, it was the perfect time for me to watch this film. I just watched her lead performance in The Tree of Life, but I came away from that film without any sense of knowing her capabilities or her range. All I knew was that she could pull off the emotion necessary for an intense drama, but without any real dialogue to judge, I couldn’t say that I really liked or disliked her. She simply was, as everyone “simply was” in The Tree of Life. Due to Malick’s fractured storytelling and my lack of connection with the actors, I didn’t even recognize that it was the same actress until about forty minutes into Take Shelter. What I did notice was her phenomenal capacity for providing intense, deep-running emotion in every one of her scenes. Make no mistake, if she keeps this level of quality performance up, she’s the next big thing. She completely knocks it out of the park. She’s the real deal. Use any clichéd saying you’d like to describe her, they all fit and she is my favorite part of this film.

Speaking of quality work, writer/director Jeff Nichols pulls together one hell of a film for a sophomore effort. I haven’t seen his début Shotgun Stories, but if it’s anywhere as good as this, it’s something special. Nichols crafts a wonderfully realistic screenplay with a great cast of characters, telling one of the better films about obsession and mental illness in recent memory. His eye for clever shot selection and editing is also impressive, as this type of slow-moving indie drama can easily get stale. Nichols keeps it interesting for the most part with a strong sense of subtle style and by coaxing riveting performances from the entire group of talented actors. The dream sequences are the most immediately memorable scenes for me, proving that if Nichols wanted to make a straight-up horror movie someday, he could craft one for the ages. He gets everything right about these dreams, eliciting fear and terror from the characters and the audience alike. C’mon man, gimme that full-on horror movie! The genre needs a director of quality to raise the bar.

Take Shelter was a great film filled with wonderful performances and an interesting storyline. The ending initially felt unimpressive and dumb, but I happened to run into an old co-worker that had seen the film and she offered an alternate interpretation that immediately made sense and perfectly ended the film. “While I’d rather have come to it myself,” says Pride, “this anecdote illustrates how films are a social medium and that good films demand to be talked about afterwards.” Incredibly impressive and engaging, Take Shelter is so-far my frontrunner for the acting Oscars come next year. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.

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