The Films of 2011 – #5 – Take Shelter
Michael Shannon is an actor with profound power & intensity who has an almost magnetic presence on screen. Admittedly it’s taken him a while to get as recognised as he already is, but outstanding roles in The Runaways, Bug, and My Son My Son What Have Ye Done mean that people are now paying attention. His recurring role as Nelson Van Alden in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire has made him “one of those faces” and his upcoming role as the rebooted General Zod in 2013’s Superman film will no doubt open the floodgates for mainstream roles. Shannon here once again plays muse to director Jeff Nichols, their first collaboration being 2007’s Shotgun Stories.
Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a blue collar worker content in his life with radiant wife Samantha (played by 2011’s undeniable breakout actress – Jessica Chastain) and their hearing-impaired daughter. That is until Curtis starts to have visceral haunting nightmares & visions: of a storm, of oily rain, and of unprompted extreme violence. Ever the rationalist, Curtis pursues ways to make the dreams go away, or at least identify why they are happening, and why each is so much more intense and terrifying than the last. As his mania starts to take over, his small town friends and family begin to question his motivations, his sanity, and slowly the world crumbles around him.
Take Shelter could easily be dismissed as a parallel to Donnie Darko, were it not for the unmitigated level of talent displayed by everyone involved. Naturally Shannon owns the film, setting the audience on edge with a flinch or a raise of a sweat-flecked eyebrow, escalating his reactions in keeping with his hysteria. The supporting cast are on a par though, most notably Chastain’s homely Samantha, and Curtis’ best friend and work colleague Dewart, played by fellow Boardwalk almunus, Shea Whigham. Director and writer Nichols plays with the audience delightfully – offering beautific scenes of natural mid-western beauty, before hurling us into the maelstrom of another oily storm with behemothic tornadoes reaching down to the ground like a malevolent deity’s icy fingers. A climactic scene in Curtis’ home-made storm shelter is one of the clammiest-palmed scenes of tension I’ve enjoyed and endured in quite some time.
Offering no easy answers and leaving many enigmas open to interpretation, Take Shelter may not be for every audience, but those that are hardy enough to weather the storm will be greatly rewarded. The number of allegorical parallels one can debate will keep you busy for a whole other evening at least.
I would be amazed if Shannon isn’t shortlisted for many, many awards on the strength of his performance here – one that will stick with you long after the film has finished.
Take Shelter’s trailer can be seen here:
Please come back at the same time tomorrow to see my pick for Film #4 of 2011. Batten those hatches down.
The Clockwork Shorts 2011 retrospective can be browsed for your pleasure right HERE