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Movie Reviews

Take Shelter



Released: November 25th 2011 (UK)

Directed By: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Certificate: 15

Reviewed By: Phillippe Ostiguy

After seeing handfuls of empty character studies aiming only to carve the central performance a spot at the Oscars (I’m looking at you, Frankie & Alice), one could reasonably wonder if the psychological drama had run out of things to say. It has come a long way, it’s true, a long way from Catherine Deneuve’s grotesque delusions in Polanski’s genre-defining classic Repulsion, and it has given us masterpieces ranging from Memento to Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs trilogy, but has become increasingly, perhaps excessively common when it should be reserved for the most careful, caring of filmmakers. Its stories are too human and too close to bear being hastily told.

So no, you couldn’t be blamed for rolling your eyes upon hearing Take Shelter, yet another one, was showing at your local theatre last weekend, but yes, you could be for missing it. Jeff Nichols demonstrates a beautiful understanding of the genre, reminding us just how loudly it can resonate. He’s patient, showing us how his character, Curtis, drifts away, away from the shore, farther still. Away from the people around him, his wife, his daughter – and how completely, achingly aware of it he is. How he finds it more and more difficult to fulfill his duties as an employee, a husband and a father as something of a paranoid schizophrenia blooms inside of him. How his nightmares are so vivid they frighten him even awake, altering his doings and his relationships. How he foresees a near-apocalyptic storm and commits to building a tornado shelter in his backyard, using money he doesn’t have, using money his wife and he need for their daughter’s medical expenses.

How they don’t understand it. How he can’t explain it to them. How he doesn’t understand it. It is heartbreaking to see a good man watching his good life slipping through his fingers this way. The first time he puts his dreams to words, describing them to his doctor, is shown as a close-up, and his face lets us read it all – the fear, the pain, the pride. Michael Shannon in the central performance is phenomenal and truly deserving of a spot at the Oscars, but that is sadly a longshot. By his side is a lovely Jessica Chastain as his caring wife feeling her own happiness slip away, feeling abandoned but never resentful. That of Samantha is one of her meatier roles so far, showing Chastain shouldn’t have too much trouble living up to the buzz.

The film is simple, linear, focused. Maybe it confines itself to a one-dimensional tale, one that seems a little too concentrated on getting to point B; at least that’s what I thought after the first thirty minutes. It isn’t any less true in hindsight, but the thought never occurred to me again for the remaining hour and a half, a telling detail. The sheer power of what was being told removed me from my head and into what was really targeted, my soul or heart or wherever it is you believe we feel. Take Shelter feels like a tidal wave right onto that area and reaches levels of sensibility one rarely sees, making holding a grudge for little technical or aesthetic deficiencies seem real silly. What matters upon exiting the theatre is how rewarding committing yourself to that movie was, how it could fill you up with boatloads of emotion as only great pieces of work can. How you won’t forget it.

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