Paced with precision, delivered with no sense of haste but measured from start to finish, Take Shelter is gripped by a sense of foreboding and centred by an understated performance from Michael Shannon.
From the outset this film is atmospherically cloying, gripped by a sense of foreboding and centred by an understated performance from Michael Shannon. Front and centre in writer-director Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is Shannon’s Curtis, driven by visionary demons, plagued by insecurities and castigated by friends and co-workers. Preoccupied by the contemporary concerns of a working class family, much is made of little moments, whether that be father-daughter time, stilted breakfast conversation or work relationships.
Paced with precision, delivered with no sense of haste but measured from start to finish, Take Shelter offers up arguments around mental illness, economic instabilities and personal choices. Much could be made of the metaphorical storm fronts, rain drenched dream sequences and mounting psychological pressures which burden Curtis but these are self-evident and subjective. For much of this film it is best to just watch Shannon disintegrate and embody a crumbling man at odds with his own interpretation of sanity. There are no outlandish histrionics, few moments of grandstanding scenery chewing, but instead Shannon makes room for Jessica Chastain’s Samantha in a role which grows over time to dominate equally.
Very much a two-hander underpinned with subtle supporting roles Shannon, Chastain and the revelation which is Tova Stewart’s Hannah create a pressure cooker environment. That this is Stewart’s first role remains impressive as her naturalistic portrayal opposite these two leads never detracts or distracts, but rather enriches and focuses the audience. To a degree if you removed the visual effects which include pitch black storm fronts, bird formations and torrential rain this feels almost like a documentary. Nichols is so intrusive in terms of close-up camera work, fragmented scene construction and minimal dialogue that this feels almost like fly on the wall stuff.
That he builds the drama and circumstance so carefully does much to ensure his dramatic impact resonances. In the aftermath of this engrossing character piece you are left shell shocked, not by that pay off but by everything which leads to it. Close knit communities built around family, industry and interdependence are quick to cast out those who rock the boat. Come the film’s finale, Shannon stands exonerated, battle hardened and emotionally scarred, while Chastain looks on as another storm front rolls onto the horizon. Beyond the biblical references, visual metaphors and heavy lifting taken on by both, it is reassuring that cinema still has the power to question without pulpit-preaching or spoon-feeding audiences.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham
Take Shelter was released on limited edition Blu-ray on September 3.