Where This Meets That
Take Shelter is a quietly amazing film.
It stars Michael Shannon as Curtis LaForche, a gentle, blue collar family man plagued by vivid nightmares that have begun spilling over into his waking life.
Curtis is unsure of the nature of his dreams. He believes them prophetic but is, at the same time, all too aware of his mother’s swift descent into paranoid schizophrenia when she was around his age.
A pragmatic character, Curtis dives into action to deal with either case, be it prophecy or insanity. While privately reading books on mental illness and seeking counseling, he also becomes obsessed with building out the storm shelter on his property. His obsession leads him to put everything on the line, from his house, his cars, his job, and his social reputation.
Ultimately, his efforts to protect his family threaten to destroy it.
I’d seen Shannon in bit parts in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Revolutionary Road. In both, his characters were odd and niche, leaving me to wonder about his ability to carry a movie on his own.
Let me just say, WOW!
I don’t know what’s going on in Oscar-land when a performance like this doesn’t get a nomination. Probably the best single performance I’ve seen since Heath Ledger donned the Joker face. Shannon dissolves fully into Curtis and gives one of the most difficult and genuine performances I’ve ever seen.
In fact, Shannon’s portrayal of Curtis reminds me of Ledger’s earlier amazing performance in Brokeback Mountain, with so much of the performance’s power achieved through the actor’s nuance, cluing the viewer in so effectively to his character’s internally raging storms.
Shannon’s performance is elevated by that of his costar Jessica Chastain, who plays his wife Samantha. In their marriage, Samantha is every part Curtis’s partner. Their relationship is so complete that even when the “rope” of their bond has frayed to a strand, that strand is strong enough to withstand whatever the world throws at it.
As Samantha attempts to coax a terrified Curtis out of the storm shelter during a pivotal scene, she tells him, “I wouldn’t lie to you,” and she means it. Chastain is authentic as a wife who strives for a marriage of equal partnership but feels threatened by her husband’s recent actions. She longs for communication with Curtis and can accept everything he will share with her over anything he will not.
The film itself is a star as well. Nichols’ direction and story builds at a pace that, while it might be too slow for some, is deliberate and effective. The soundtrack features a theme reminiscent of wind chimes, which provide a wonderful atmospheric touch to complement the open air, “storm’s coming” context of the film.
Nichols cleverly uses several techniques that are very effective in achieving the film’s cohesiveness, like using match cuts from rain to shower and rock drill to sewing machine. He also skillfully dovetails contrasting scenes between Samantha’s craft market and Curtis’s crafting of a dog pen in the yard to emphasize that the couple is very capable as two individuals but that they ultimately need each other to face an uncertain future.
Overall, Take Shelter is a powerful film that looms at times dreadful as a tomb and gives us something to relate to in today’s world of perpetual war and sagging employment while, at the same time, giving a beautiful vision of the bonds of family and the strength that it can give us.
Take Shelter score: 4.5 Falcone Rings!!!