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I'm going to try to be restrained in my praise of this film, but it's
going to be hard, because I think it's about as close to perfect
film-making as I've ever seen. I generally only write reviews for
movies I've really loved, or really hated, and this movie I really
This is a masterpiece.
I don't know where to begin, really. Leaving the cinema, I felt as though I'd had some kind of accident - a little as if I was in shock. I had a very strong physical reaction to this movie, in tandem with my emotional response, and in many scenes I felt my heart racing. This is powerful material and has been delivered with great skill. The pacing is perfect, moving slowly and quietly toward not one but several emotional climaxes, each greater than the last, allowing the audience to enter Curtis' world and share his emotions. The cinematography was beautiful, elegant, and achingly frightening at times; the dialogue was so real it hurt, and the soundtrack sinister and intense. Michael Shannon should win something for this role - he is Curtis completely and it's a complex and deeply sympathetic portrayal of the confusion of a good man, a complicated portrait of a man trying to BE a good man, in the face of his own fear. From the very beginning, the atmosphere is unsettled, and some of the dream sequences are heart-stoppingly frightening. The story is multi-layered, working with ideas of family, mental illness, responsibility, fear, the current feeling of the-end-is-nigh that everyone senses - when Curtis said, 'Is anyone seeing this?' I almost cried for him.
I have thought very hard about this film since I saw it two days ago and I simply cannot fault anything about it, not one thing. I know I'm going to see it many times. It left me shaken and moved and I cannot wait to see more from this writer/director. Hands down the movie of the century, so far.
It seems that art films come in all shapes and sizes these days. If you
look hard enough you'll find small independent art films within any
genre. Take Shelter is a film you will find amongst dramatic thrillers,
and it is definitely one you should seek out. It stars Michael Shannon
as Curtis, a middle class family man working on the pipeline in Ohio.
He leads a capable life where he must cope with his monetary issues as
well as his deaf daughter. But he makes the most of it and lives a life
of relative ease and compassion for his family. However, things become
complicated when he starts seeing apocalyptic visions of a terrible
storm he believes is on its way. The dreams and visions make his life
very difficult and it becomes increasingly more stressful. Curtis must
fight a battle within himself as he tries to figure out if these
visions are meaningful or if he is just going crazy, as well as with
his family and friends who become more disconnected from him as his
sanity seems to deteriorate before their eyes. Take Shelter is a
harrowing, dramatic, and slow building film that will surely amaze you
once it is all over.
Take Shelter is a film that moves so slowly and builds so dramatically that one begins to wonder if we're every getting to the end. It's an incredibly quiet and sincerely somber film. We spend almost the entire movie honing in on Michael Shannon's powerful facial expressions and the deep thought going into the story. It progresses so slowly with a build up that pushes its way through molasses.
I'll admit that I was getting worried about this film not being as good as I expected it to be. I was afraid it might not live up to my expectations and that the payoff wouldn't be worth the crawling build up. But one you reach the end you will be incredibly satisfied. The payoff is incredible. I couldn't have asked for a better ending. It could not have been executed more precisely. It plays to something bigger than what you could have ever expected from this fantastic film. Just as my mind began to slip away from Take Shelter it ended with such a deep and deafening bang that my eyes flew open to realize the incredible film I had just sat through.
Take Shelter might not look like much at first, but it turns out to be a tremendous film. It's smart, engaging, fascinating, and brutally sincere. This is a must see film for 2011. Depending on your attention span you may want to give up about an hour and a half in, but if you stick around for the end you will be very satisfied. I guarantee it.
Take Shelter is an intelligent, thought provoking, nicely shot film featuring an excellent performance by Michael Shannon (an Oscar nomination, surely?), who was also great in director Nichols' previous/first film, Shotgun Stories. The film explores the line between fear and paranoia, or objectivity and subjectivity, as it's protagonist - a blue-collar family man of few words - wrestles with apocalyptic dreams and visions of a strange, possibly supernatural storm, responding to them as best he can as both literal warnings AND possible signs of mental illness. The film has a brooding, at times Hitchcockian atmosphere and a very timely feel to it (think financial and environmental disasters). Set in a rural community, we have plenty of lovely wide shots of the land- and sky-scape (also a strong element of Shotgun Stories) with some added CGI on the latter for the dream/visions. Shannon's performance constitutes at least 50% of this films worth but the rest of the cast are good too. It's a slow mover and, at around two hours and fifteen minutes, perhaps a bit too long. My wife and I did have a few criticisms after watching it (at the Sydney Film Festival), but I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from seeing this film, which will no doubt be a hot topic and bring Nichols deserved recognition when it goes on general release (September 30 2011 in US)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fear is the driving force for most of humanity, whether we choose to admit it or not. We fear financial distress, health problems, losing the people we love, and even bad weather. Fear grips our ability to function properly, to mentally process right and wrong, and to keep hold of the things we cherish most. Fear is the ring-leader in our circus of life. Take Shelter is an exposition of how fear can rule and ruin our lives. In this film, Curtis, played by Michael Shannon, succumbs to his greatest fear of "the storm" that is coming. Curtis begins dreaming of a horrific storm that not only takes his life but the lives of those he loves. This storm is almost depicted as an end-times, natural disaster. Curtis' dream becomes all-consuming for him as it starts impacting not only his sleep, but his life during the day. It is the fear of the dream becoming a reality that drives Curtis over the edge. Because of this, his job, finances, relationships, and marriage are all affected. This film is so much more than just the average apocalyptic, fear-fest. Take Shelter also portrays the commitment and faithfulness of marriage during a time of extreme doubt and confusion. It is beautifully portrayed how and why Samantha (Curtis' wife) stays so committed to her husband, even after he has given her plenty of reasons to leave. In a culture where over 40% of marriages end in divorce, this film speaks profoundly against that percentage. It is a refreshing experience to see the storms of marriage overcome by the vow of commitment. This film could quite possibly stir up a new statistic and I think that would do the world some good.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Take Shelter could be easily renamed to something like Anxieties of
living in the 21st Century Western Country. It showcases a rich pallet
of phobias, from fear of financial instability, job loss, to anxiety
about upcoming environmental apocalypse. Curtis (flawlessly played by
Michael Shannon) begins having dreams and visions of bad things
happening to him and his family and so he decides to build a huge
shelter in his backyard where they can all seek refuge in case any of
his dreams were to come true. But following his instincts comes at a
price he loses his job, takes out unstable loan from a bank and
destroys his deaf daughter's only chance to undergo a surgery to
restore her hearing. The dreams drive Curtis into insanity as he
mirrors his behaviour with what once happened to his mother, a victim
The moment Curtis admits to himself and to others that he might be going insane, the apocalypse does arrive and so everyone else is forced to agree that something bad was on its way all along. Take Shelter is a very contemporary drama, which would not have been made, let's say, ten years ago. The problems the film presents are mostly influenced by the recession, political divide in nowadays America and environmental problems caused by global warming. The director Jeff Nichols finds a perfect balance between building up the multitude of his main character's anxieties and presenting Curtis's struggle in a believable way. He escapes preaching about the presented issues and makes the sole existence of the problems uncertain up until the very last moment. What is most admirable though is that Nichols avoids religious aspects of his apocalypse and keeps it very close to life, making forces of nature the most vengeful and destructive.
Take Shelter was a rare jewel among the films presented at Sundance. It was beautifully executed (besides the outstanding performances from the cast, music and pictures are also note-worthy) and felt fresh and exciting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For 110 minutes "Take Shelter" is a gripping, dread inducing portrait
of an average Joe going off the rails. At first there is a certain
amount of ambiguity as to whether the main character's nightmares are
apocalyptic premonitions or manifestations of creeping anxiety. The
plain-spoken naturalism of the script, direction and performances --
especially Michael Shannon's believably unraveling lead -- stack up on
the side of a mental breakdown. The details of his crack-up are
painfully accurate and he even has a family history of schizophrenia.
Then, in the last few minutes, the movie becomes a highfalutin "Twilight Zone" episode, with one of those "gotcha" endings of the "It's a cookbook!" ilk. This would not be so bad if the buildup had not been so tonally different. As it is it's an utter betrayal of everything that preceded it and an insult to audiences' emotional investment in the characters.
"Take Shelter" is the latest and most egregious example of a distressing trend among filmmakers to take manifestly silly premises and invest them with dour gravity. Nolan, Shymalan, and Singer are the avatars of this style. They try to turn comic book and supermarket tabloid subjects into Ibsen, sucking out the fun as they inflate their stature. Rod Serling is surely rolling in his grave.
When done right, few tales are more riveting than a person's descent
into madness. Alfred Hitchcock proved this time and time again and Jeff
Nichols reinforces it in "Take Shelter," a film likely to have been
lauded by the master of suspense himself. Anchored by the performances
of Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, "Shelter" broods and festers
but ultimately thrives on the brink between buildup and utter chaos.
Shannon, far from a household name but a favorite of cinephiles since his head-turning supporting role in "Revolutionary Road," stars as Curtis, a construction worker and father living in a rural town with his wife, Sam (Chastain), and their young daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart). Their daughter has developed extreme hearing loss and Curtis' job provides them the benefits necessary to afford cochlear implants, but Curtis' recent slew of horrifically real nightmares seems to be the real issue here.
In his dreams, Curtis experiences premonitions of a near-apocalyptic storm that includes odd bird flight formations, motor-oil-like rain, and twisters, and appears to make everyone that shows up in his dreams eerily violent from his dog to complete strangers. The resulting paranoia and occasional physical side affects leads Curtis to seek medical attention, but also to start renovating the storm cellar in his backyard should his visions come true.
The question of whether Curtis is a prophet of sorts or just mentally disturbed drives the film not much else does. Nichols tells this story largely through a series of character snapshots depicting Curtis riding the ups and downs caused by these nightmares. A few key moments boil the story to a point, namely a riveting scene when Curtis loses it a social luncheon, but the pensive script withholds from us straight through the end like a well-trained indie film.
As we go deeper and deeper with Curtis and eventually Samantha and Curtis' best friend/co-worker Dewart (Shea Whigham) we do learn some key details about Curtis' medical history that shed light on the situation, but even in the midst of fact, Nichols never gives us the satisfaction of arriving at any concrete conclusion about his predicament.
With the weight of an immensely introverted character dealing with a mental struggle placed squarely on his shoulders, Shannon proves why you'll only see him with more and more frequency in the future. He makes sure we care about what happens to Curtis, but beyond that he slips back and forth between deserving sympathy and deserving skepticism. He is not simply some Jobian character to whom bad things are happening, and this makes his challenge all the more challenging for the viewer. Credit as well to Nichols for crafting a protagonist far from the norm.
The winner of 2011′s most ubiquitous actress award, Chastain, gets the more alpha-type role instead. She's the good-hearted, open and loving type driven entirely by logic and unafraid of confrontation. Many will identify more with Samantha as a result, which adds a layer of complexity to the film to say the least.
"Take Shelter" offers compelling character-driven suspense, though at times it will try your patience. If you can chalk that up to quintessential indie filmmaking, then by all means do and enjoy this complex and challenging character portrait all the more for it. However, the real thrill of this type of film is that at any moment the bottom might drop out on the entire story (aka the $%&+ might hit the proverbial tornado); the difference between liking that and loving it is accepting when it doesn't.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From the opening moments of this dark, dreamy tale it is clear that we are in for something quite extraordinary. Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter begins with a nightmare and continues as such even after our protagonist Curtis LaForche wakes up. Curtis's nightmare comes in the form of a storm. Ominous clouds roll towards him, black and imposing and spitting greasy, yellow rain. As Curtis panics and goes to get his daughter to safety, he is attacked by the beloved family dog and just as the dog is about to tear his arm off he wakes up. This opening sequence, indicative of the rest of the film, is terrifying, beautiful and full of awe at nature's power. When Curtis wakes up, his arm hurts from where the dog attacked him in his dream but there is no wound. As a result, Curtis has come to distrust the loyal dog around his deaf daughter. When the dreams continue, and start to come in the form of hallucinations, Curtis must decide whether he is a prophet or a lunatic. There is a history of mental illness in Curtis' family and he is terrified that he is starting to lose his grip on reality. However, he takes a "better safe than sorry" approach and begins to obsessively build a storm shelter so that he might keep his family safe if a storm does come. The bulk of the film looks at Curtis' declining mental health. Is he slipping further into psychosis or is he driving himself insane with paranoia. His descent into madness is terrifying to watch and while the film never really quite decides whether he is a prophet or a madman it keeps its feet firmly planted in reality and never loses sight of the true intention of the film, to watch a man as he disintegrates. There is something very Cronenbergian about the crisis of masculinity going on in Take Shelter and the violent way in which it manifests itself. Curtis is a kind, loving husband and father but his paranoia, his fears for his family and his fears for his own sanity drive him to some very erratic behaviour that might have disastrous results for his family, storm or no storm. The relationship between Curtis and his wife and daughter is realistic and Jessica Chastain's earthy beauty compliments the character's strength, trust, intelligence and warmth just perfectly. As they struggle to keep their marriage together despite Curtis's many misadventures, one can feel her shock that something that was once so strong could be taken from her so cruelly. Take Shelter is a beautiful film. It is a lyrical film and it is a poetic film. It is not necessarily a film that provides answers but it is not ever trying to riddle you. The script is tight, pitch-perfect and nicely paced suggesting that Jeff Nichols is as skilled as a writer as he is a director. Shot with unbelievable beauty by lenser Adam Stone, the film looks and feels profoundly alluring and is a pleasure to behold throughout. However, the real heart of the film film rests on the shoulders of one person, Michael Shannon, who is superb here as the desperate Curtis. He is cuddly enough to be sympathetic but giant enough to be terrifying. His performance is a towering achievement and, in my eyes, cements him as one of the most interesting actors working today. This is the kind of performance that rarely comes around. Awards season will be colourful for Michael Shannon if there is any justice in the world. Part family drama, part disaster movie, part psychological thriller and part horror, this truly unique film must be seen on the big screen if at all possible and I can only implore people to make the effort to go out and give this film your money. Take Shelter is a low-budget (not that you can tell) masterpiece that truly deserves your attention. - Charlene Lydon
I hear it so much now. Our national discourse is rich with portent. "It's going to get worse before it gets better", "Something horrible is coming, you'll see", "Soon there will be riots". I'm told these things at conventions and while talking to my neighbors and at breakfast with my mother's old friends. Now Jeff Nichols takes an exhausted phrase in storytelling, ("There's a storm coming") and crafts out of it the movie of the moment. A dark, symbolic mapping of the last five years of the middle-class American experience that's bursting at the mental and financial seams. I have yet to see a finer artistic expression of the current existential crises we face. Michael Shannon is the Noah of our hour, plagued with calamitous visions and barely bearing up under the weight of constant anxiety. In fact, the whole endeavor is buried in quiet distress and prescience. And when the movie finally finds the heart to redeem it's long suffering protagonist, it is through the worst of all possible outcomes. Essential viewing for our times.
Take Shelter is one of the most enriching and well made apocalyptic
films I've seen since The Book of Eli. Not only does the art direction
perfectly and naturally blend itself with the story, but the subtle and
remarkable work of Michael Shannon and the slow, but intricate
directing by Jeff Nichols work wonders for the pacing and the final
There's a grand difference between a story that takes forever to develop for a reason, and a story that takes forever to develop just because. Take Shelter lets its characters work their way into becoming recognizable human beings one step at a time. It's not one of those films that begins to get interesting during the second half because everything suddenly picks up. It's a film that starts out interesting because we are greeted with characters that have humanistic problems, and we are left contemplating the same characters who still occupy problems. It's a genius anomaly of filmmaking, and it's taken with great care here.
Another film that had that same sort of motto was Alexander Payne's The Descendants. Again, it followed the idea of letting its characters develop at a human-like pace before throwing in real climatic elements. Rarely do screenwriters want to create characters that slowly evolve into almost real characters. Most are too busy to jump right into "the good stuff." The story revolves around Curtis LaForche (Shannon), a Ohio construction worker living with his wife (Chastain) and their deaf daughter. Their house is on a wide stretch of land below a vast chunk of open sky. Curtis begins having very surreal and haunting nightmares about a forthcoming storm that has dark, ominous clouds and loud, rip-roaring thunder. In each of his dreams, something hurts him physically or mentally. In one, his own dog attacks him and he can almost feel the pain upon waking up.
Curtis seeks help from multiple doctors, while at the same time, he is trying to shield his dreams from his wife. Jessica Chastain, who has played a supporting role in several films in 2011, is pitch perfect. It's typical for films to sort of blacklist family members that are victim to a crisis caused by their spouse, son, etc. In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the film completely missed its chance to give Sandra Bullock a fantastic performance as the mother. Instead they traded it for more shots of Thomas Horn's autistic character running around aimlessly in New York. Chastain slowly evolves into a true character, compliments of the screenplay. It's nice that the film tries to, not only formulate characters, but showcase their reaction and response to the main events as well.
Michael Shannon is terrific. Simply terrific. He plays the role of a delusional man, unable to decipher dreams from reality very well. He slowly goes insane, without ever being too comical, unbelievable, or over the top. Having a delusional character go over the top sometimes works if you have a capable, sophisticated actor, take Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss, who will bring justice to the role. If Shannon tried to go the Nicolas Cage route in Take Shelter, the film would've derailed faster than the storm coming in.
Why Take Shelter works so unrealistically well is because it forms sequences of forthcoming dread that can't be ignored. The art direction is some of the best I've seen this year, along with Another Earth (but that didn't succeed in storytelling this well). It also works coherently and wonderfully because Shannon is such a capable actor, always perfectly pulling off the tall, eerie man with pure force. I'll be damned if Take Shelter wasn't the most unsettling movie experiences in the last few years.
Starring: Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Directed by: Jeff Nichols.
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