Monday, October 24, 2011

Review - Take Shelter

A husband and father begins to suffer from horrible apocalyptic visions. Afraid he might be at the onset of paranoid schizophrenia he seeks help only to find his visions worsening. With fear that his visions may be true, the young man begins to put all of his energy into building a shelter that will protect his family from his worst fears.

As a father and a husband I have a responsibility to provide for my family. That obligation, albeit one filled with plenty of joy, can be stressful at times. Thousands of factors play into holding together our daily lives not to mention our future. There is a recognizable weight upon a father's shoulders knowing full well they hold the livelihood of others in their hands. "Take Shelter" sets its sights on a father who fears something terrible is coming and must prepare his family for the worst. Each of his decisions effect all the people he loves tremendously. As a father, I found the drama directed by Jeff Nichols to be bone chilling and unnerving through and through. On the surface, the film focuses on a father/husband whose world is crashing down because he is having paranoid delusions about an apocalyptic future, but beneath the surface the film feels like a stark metaphor for a worsening economic climate. What makes the film so terrific is that both the literal and figurative definitions work without error.

"Take Shelter" is a very quiet movie. There is a deliberate approach to the sound design, cinematography and editing that all combine to build the unnerving sense of fear and panic within the main characters as well as anxiety within the audience. Plus the drama houses a beautifully eerie score by David Wingo that comes in ever so subtly yet with miles of impact. Much like a coming storm, the audience sees the signs and feels as the paranoia and fear grows stronger and stronger within the main character Curtis. The audience balances back and forth between the delusions Curtis is having and not only how those delusions are effecting his immediate family but also his friendships and job. Director Jeff Nichols' drama intentionally becomes uncomfortable as the audience watches this father spiral further and further out of control.

Being a very slow burn "Take Shelter" hinges on the performances of its actors. Carrying most of this load is Michael Shannon in the lead role of Curtis. Shannon is no stranger to bold characters and here, he once again shows he has the chops to keep the audience glued to his portrayal. Shannon conveys the conflict and fear Curtis is facing as a father struggling to provide for his family with apocalyptic visions become more and more intense with the utmost precision. Again the analogy of our current economic climate resonates to both the literal events happening in the story and on a much larger scale. These visions Curtis is suffering are not exclusive to him, if true, they will effect everyone and Shannon conveys that weight without error. Jessica Chastain also delivers a seasoned performance as Curtis' wife Samantha. Chastain does an exceptional job of portraying a wife/mother who fears the worst as she watches her husband spiral further and further into his delusions. Not only the concern she has for her husband as his visions take hold but the fear that she also faces as their lives begin to unravel. Lastly Shea Whigham deserves a heap of credit for playing a very small but important role as Curtis's best friend Dewart. Much like the character of Samantha, Dewart fears the worst for Curtis. He watches as this man is allowing his world to crumble around him. There is a lot of pain Dewart has to cope with as he loses his best friend to paranoia and delusions and Whigham pulls it off in expert fashion.

One final aspect I found fascinating is a slight sense that the visions Curtis is seeing throughout "Take Shelter" may be real. You tell yourself the visions can't be real just like the characters do in the drama, but something just keeps nudging that Curtis might not be going crazy. One side says that director Jeff Nichols is just playing with reality versus delusion, but the other side says these moments seed into the paranoia and anxiety Nichols has so elegantly weaved into a story that reflect our nation's current times. There has been a growing fear and sense of panic in America for a number of years post 9/11 and I think Nichols does a poignant job of representing that on screen through the lives of a recognizable working class family.