October 9, 2011

Movie Review: Take Shelter

I must admit, when I first saw the trailer for Take Shelter, I had a rather different idea of what it was about. Now, having seen it and seeing how off my initial reaction was, I am left trying to decide if that is a good thing or not. On one hand, my initial reaction did give me some thoughts about what the film might be and that I was interested in it. On the flip side, the movie that it is may actually be better than what I thought it was going to be. The actual movie felt more real, tragic, and ultimately more interesting than the modern day Noah thing I had going in my head. The short of it is that Take Shelter is a solid movie that is well worth spending a little time with.

I saw this as part of a trip to New York City where I went to see three movies at three different theaters. This one was at the Angelika Film Center. Nice theater with plenty of ambiance. There was a cafe just inside, past the box office, that I know wish I had sampled something from. Through another set of doors was the ticket taker and then an escalator down a flight to the theaters. It was here that I talked to the girl at the concessions counter who told me that Lou Reed had been there a month or so ago and she had served him popcorn. The theater was nice, clean, and the first non-stadium seating theater I had been in in some time. Additionally, it has not converted to digital. It was nice seeing a film projection again, it has a decidedly different feel when watching. Well, enough about the theater, I am sure you don't really care that much.

Take Shelter focuses on the crumbling psyche of a blue collar mid-western family man. Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a crew chief for a sand mining company, he is married to Samantha who is always working on keeping the family together and sells homemade crafts, they have a deaf daughter who is in her own lonely, silent world. All of their lives are about to be tossed into a tempest of Curtis' own creation.

Curtis is having visions of a coming storm, heralded by rain that falls like motor oil, birds flying erratically in the sky, thunderclaps on clear days, and other more immediate things like his dog attacking him, and anonymous attackers taking his daughter. These come at random times day or night, regardless of whether he is sleeping or not. Curtis is doing his best to try and deal with them while also trying to protect his family from his problems. He seeks help at a free clinic from a counselor, after attempting to diagnose himself.

The external fixation of his growing mental instability is a storm shelter in the backyard. His nightmares and visions all seem to be pointing towards a coming storm and he wants to be able to protect his family. He is also aware of the nebulous reality as he fears the schizophrenia that claimed his mother at roughly the age he is now is going to take him.

His issues spill over into the community as the economic struggles are also a factor and when Curtis' decisions as crew chief affect those around him the community turns on him. It is true, Curtis' issues are certainly problematic as he tries to do what he feels is the right thing to do for himself and his family. He is scared of succumbing the same way his mother did.

Michael Shannon's performance was quite fascinating. He is able to convey so much in his face. There is something about his ability to portray troubled determination. He anchors this film, without him there is no movie. Sure, the supporting cast is good, but there is something about Shannon and his determination brings this character to life. You can feel his pain, the slow build up to the finale, perhaps a touch melodramatic, but it works.

If there is anything I did not like, it is that it uses the same ending as the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man. Small complaint. This is a first rate movie with a riveting central performance.


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