I make it a rule to see any film which Michael Shannon chooses to grace with his presence. In the quietly terrifying new film, “Take Shelter,” Shannon’s wrenching performance will leave you breathless.
Shannon plays Curtis LaForche, a loving father whose life is unremarkable, yet comfortable and happy. When he begins having recurring nightmares about an apocalyptic storm, his life slowly unravels. His terror is so overwhelming that he actually feels physical pain long after having awakened.
Curtis becomes obsessed with building a storm shelter, much to the bewilderment of his wife, Samantha (the amazing Jessica Chastain). His unsettling behavior begins to border on paranoia, eventually resulting in the loss of his job, his standing in the community and his wife’s trust.
Director Jeff Nichols (“Shotgun Stories”) plays his cards close to the chest. Is Curtis losing his mind or channeling omens of impending disaster? The audience never knows for certain. We’re caught in the same dilemma as Curtis. We see what he sees, but is he really seeing it?
The implied terror, the suspicion of a looming catastrophe and our sympathy for Curtis assault our senses throughout the entire film. We want Curtis to be right because he’s a good man. But if he’s right, everyone is doomed.
That’s why “Take Shelter” is such an exceptional piece of filmmaking. There’s no escape hatch. You’re in it for the long haul. Nichols’ subtle but extremely effective camera work can spark panic with droplets of oily rain and birds flying in eerie formations. An ominously scant score is instrumental in intensifying the horror. Curtis’ nightmares will become fodder for yours.
Shannon’s portrayal of a man sinking into insanity is a gift to behold. It’s reminiscent of his powerful work in “Revolutionary Road.” It’s Oscar-worthy in every respect. Curtis’ fear parallels the paranoia in our world today. We identify with it because it’s real.
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