Take Shelter

Michael Shannon gives an Oscar-worthy performance in this unsettling indie drama

 

4 and a half stars

 

 

Take Shelter - Curtis surveys the storm

 

Director: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

 

Take Shelter - Curtis stares at nothing ouside

There's much to love in Jeff Nichols's second feature - his first since the critically love-bombed Shotgun Stories in 2008.

 

Once again it stars Michael Shannon, who's just mesmerising in this intense character study of a man slowly losing his mind.

 

We first meet Curtis LaForche (Shannon) in the middle of a dream - standing outside his house and staring at a faraway storm as brown, oily rain falls from the sky. It's a dream we and Curtis return to time and again, as he begins to question his own fragile sanity.

 

Take Shelter - Curtis' wife and daughter look at what's happening outside.

His mother, we learn, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in her late 30s and Curtis is now 36. That, and waking up in piss-stained bed sheets, forces him to seek counselling, but it's just a band aid on a gunshot wound.

 

On the face of it, Curtis leads a comfortable life. He has a good job as a construction worker and a loving wife who cooks him scrambled eggs every morning. The only outside upset is their having to scrimp together money to get their deaf daughter a cochlea implant to save her hearing.

 

Though there's a window of understanding within Curtis that all this may be the product of mental illness, he goes ahead and takes out a crippling loan to pay for a storm shelter for him and his family. Borrowing tools from work to help him build it, he's soon sacked, and has to confess to his quietly suffering wife the full horror of his state of mind.

 

Take Shelter - Curtis talks to his daughter

Writer and director, Jeff Nichols, has crafted an elegant combination of horror story and domestic drama.

 

Curtis' dreams are culled from the vocabulary of horror cinema, as he cradles his deaf daughter from shadowy figures trying to break into house, before the house shakes violently, sending the furniture floating into the air.

 

All the dreams add to an unsettling mood that pervades the whole movie. Whether Curtis's visions are genetic, or a symptom of an economic climate that rattles the very thought of stability are left satisfyingly vague.

 

Take Shelter - Curtis runs outside with his little girl in his arms

This is an intimately focused story of a man's descent into madness. It's all built around an extraordinary performance by Michael Shannon, whose coiled-up emotions always seem on the brink of exploding.

 

He brings a sad-eyed intensity to a role which is light on dialogue and lighter still on the kind of theatrically satisfying acting moments usually associated with mental illness dramas.

 

There's only one scene where Curtis lets rip, warning the cowering locals of the oncoming storm that will finish off everything and everyone.

 

Take Shelter - Curtis looks at the storm with his daughter

It all leads to a final scene that poses more questions than it answers. It'll prove more divisive than anything else in the movie, and how you take it will colour your view of the whole film.

 

Take Shelter may be roomy and precisely controlled, but it's got fire beneath its calm surface, and at its centre a performance that could well be a contender for an Oscar nom come 2012.

 

Steve O'Brien

 

 

Click down there for the trailer.

 

 

Take Shelter Reviewed
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