Take Shelter

Michael Shannon is acting weird again! This fine actor who gave such a touching performance in Machine Gun Preacher and of course haunted the creepy movie Bug, is having terrible dreams in this new brooding little flick  called Take Shelter.

These are really bad dreams, that affect him through the rest of the day. A storm’s a comin’, and all hell’s gonna break loose. So, naturally, he starts to build out his storm shelter. In fact, he becomes obsessed with it, spending too much money, time, and social capital. However, he’s not sure he’s not crazy, either. So all the while he’s doing this, he’s going to various medical and psychological doctors, and visiting with his mother (Kathy Baker, who was also in Machine Gun Preacher) who went schizophrenic at about his age.

And there’s your movie.

This movie’s been a bit overhyped. OK, you probably never heard of it, unless you’re into these little films like we are, but if you are, you’ve seen that it won at Cannes and has high ratings at IMDB and gets glowing reviews and so on.

And it is a good movie. But it falls just short of greatness.

The first act is action packed. We see Curtis’ (Shannon) nightmares, and they’re quite horrific. Of course, as the audience, you’re more inclined to believe what you see, so you’re inclined to believe that these visions are literal prophecy. Or at least true portents.

The second act, though, takes us out of most of the dreams which has the dual effect of reducing the intensity of the film and making you seriously doubt whether he’s sane or not. This works but it radically shifts the tone of the film.

The third act is a rollercoaster, threatening the worst possible ending at one point.

Ultimately, it works, although the ending poses some interesting problems, not least geographically concerning the distance between Columbus, Ohio and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Shannon is good, of course, as always. He brings empathy to roles that might—heh, well roles that might not warrant it, though not in this case.

What really makes the movie stand out, though, is Jessica Chastain, and her role as Curtis’ wife Samantha. She loves him, she’s proud of him, she’s grateful to him, she supports him, she does what she can for the family, she’s strong but not mean or stubborn—and it’s all put to the test by his deteriorating mental state. She’s basically the perfect wife and mother.

There used to be more of those in movies. Someone somewhere decided that was a demeaning or too secondary. And yet this movie wouldn’t have worked without it. Curtis’ challenge becomes her challenge, becomes the family challenge—even the community’s challenge as the normally stalwart Curtis’ starts to bring his life down around his ears.

The Boy said something on the way out, though. “It’s strange that there was no God in the movie.”

It was, kind of. I think any actual Presence would’ve made the movie less popular with critics and would have necessitated a different ending.

It’s also kind of interesting that the last three movies we’ve seen have all dealt with spiritual issues: Machine Gun Preacher, Take Shelter and the new Emilio Estevez movie, The Way. Religion was definitely a thread throughout this film but Curtis’ visions are never put into any religious frame (nor even incidental symbols that I picked up).

We recommend, but less enthusiastically than others.

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