I get to the movies about every other month or so, despite my passion for them. This is due mostly to my wonderful child and the harried schedules of my wife and I. So I must be captious about what I see (making my decision to see the new Conan film all the more inexplicable). So Friday, amidst the afternoon downpour in Los Angeles, I dropped them off at the airport and ‘bee’-lined it to the theater to Take Shelter. What an excellent decision to harbor myself within the confines of writer/director Jeff Nichols’ (Shotgun Stories) parable of a man named Curtis Laforche (Michael Shannon, in what should be an Oscar-nominated role). Curtis believes an apocalyptic storm is nigh and obsessively starts building a fortified storm shelter for his wife (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter (Tova Stewart). If he were in the middle of a large city with all its noise and constant fervor then this would barely register on the weirdness scale; but this takes place in small-town America (Pennsylvania/Ohio), where odd behavior is immediately noticed and deemed dangerous.
As the film progresses, Curtis’s dreams become more violently foreboding and his own sanity comes into question due to his family history. We begin to wonder if they are meant to take shelter from the coming storm or from Curtis himself as he begins to fear and detach from his best friend and his wife. Curtis does seek professional help, but he is stymied by the same healthcare system that is giving them a hard time getting a cochlear implant for their daughter. Clean, Shaven meets Field of Dreams in studio vernacular.
Worthy of note is the fantastically subtle cinematography and beautiful shots of clouds and storm systems that seem to become characters of their own swirling perilously on the horizon. I also admire Nichols’ deliberate effort to quell anything overtly religious, keeping the film with the people and the moments that occur. Such would muddy the waters of the mystery as to whether these dreams are portending the end of days or if Curtis is just losing it.
The cast overall was very good, but Michael Shannon’s performance carries the film. His progressive mental fragility chills you at times, then the next scene he will break your heart as he lovingly signs ‘storm’ and ‘I love you’ with his daughter. Incredible work. Curtis’ constant mission through this film is to protect his daughter, who, like her father, cannot hear the storm that is coming. But are his feelings and visions phantasms of some mental default or nature speaking through him as a caveat? The mixing of weaned and heightened senses is a great dichotomy, especially when the characters are simple people who cannot decipher their meanings, but only act upon them.
Along with 13 Assassins by the great Takashii Miike, this is my film of the year so far (even though I don’t get there a lot). Afterward I felt a bit like Curtis, like there was something different in the air that no one else could feel. As if the time I spent taking in shelter put me in a different world for a bit and it took some time to adjust back to the plain old city. It felt great, and I think more people should feel that way, just mind how you manage these feelings and bring either an umbrella or some anti-psychotics.