Take Shelter

by Alan Rapp on November 4, 2011

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Take Shelter
  • IMDB: link

take-shelter-posterWhen a construction worker starts to have apocalyptic nightmares and hallucinations he becomes obsessed with spending his time and his family’s limited resources to build onto a fallout shelter in their backyard.

Curtis (Michael Shannon) is convinced that a storm, unlike anyone has ever seen, is approaching and the shelter is his only hope of keeping his wife (Jessica Chastain) and daughter (Tova Stewart) safe. He’s also well-aware that his problems might be linked to his family’s history of mental illness. His mother (Kathy Baker) was diagnosed as a schizophrenic at the age he is now. Are his visions real or is he too loosing his mind?

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter works well because the lead character is able to admit the possibility that everything he’s experiencing may be nothing more than his delusions. But that admission doesn’t mean he’s not still at their mercy. Over the course of the film the gathering storm in his mind grows louder and louder until it finally erupts.

The film stays on the fence as long as possible. The story presents itself as a character study of a man slowly decending into obsession and madness, but we’ve all seen too many movies to know that’s the whole story. When the storm eventually does appear we’re initially unsure whether its actually happening or if Curtis has finally sucumbed completely to his delusions.

Shannon gives one of the best performances of the year as a man who sees the world slipping away from him but keeps calm enough to concentrate on what he can control. While not working on the shelter Curtis seeks assistance from a local counselor (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and starts studying up on the disease that took his mother away from him when he was 10 years-old and may currently be destroying his mind.

Take Shelter

Nichols slowly builds the tension, and keeps it ratcheted up for most of the movie’s second half. The visions Curtis experiences, though simple, have a visceral effect that stay with him, and us, long after the scenes have passed.

Take Shelter is not only a terrific character study, it’s one of the best films of the year. The final scene, which tell us definitively the truth about Curtis’ condition, may annoy some, but it puts the perfect coda on the film by waiting to the final moment to give us the last piece of the puzzle and tying up all the lingering loose ends.

Unless your town has a fine arts theater you may have to wait until DVD and Blu-ray to see this one as Take Shelter is getting a very limited release in less than 100 theaters nation wide. Don’t fret too much if you have to wait until you can see it on home video. I promise it will be worth the wait.

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