The Reel Deal
A Reel Deal Film Review
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5
“THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE AIR”
Take Shelter taps into something in the air–an ominous feeling that has been in the American psyche for a number of years now. It is that something that stirred up some of the right wing into a frenzy under the banner of the Tea Party. It is that same something that has many people huddled together in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan in a protest to Occupy Wall Street. It is an anxiety, a fear for our future–a sense that America is on the decline, that the end is nigh. This anxiety can and has taken on Biblical proportions in the real world, to the point where one of our two political parties has a hoard of candidates for president who act like chickens with their heads lopped off running around in circles, but in Take Shelter, while the religious context is never too far away, the proportions aren’t Biblical but personal. Take Shelter is a character study, not a film focused on a coming apocalypse or a nation’s fatigue. This is a small film, but it is no small feat.
The film has moments of absolute perfection, even if it doesn’t manage to sustain the brilliance throughout. It stars Michael Shannon, who wowed nearly all who saw him in films such as Revolutionary Road and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? This is an actor so immensely talented that I don’t know how he isn’t a household name yet. Maybe an Oscar this year will help with that? Or at least a second Oscar nom? Michael Shannon plays a man in a small town in Ohio plagued with apocalyptic visions of a coming storm. Is this a sign of mental illness or of the end of days? The character doesn’t exactly know, and neither do we.
As the man begins work on his family’s tornado shelter, his life simultaneously begins to fall apart. The visions not only plague him, but obsess him, and they start to alter how he interacts with everything and everyone in his everyday life. The man’s wife, played by this year’s breakout star Jessica Chastain (is this six films she’s been in this year or 6,000?), senses something is wrong, but can’t quite reach him, and can’t get him to tell her what’s going on. And besides they’ve got other more pressing worries: money, their daughter’s deafness, her inability to interact with other children, etc. The acting is brilliant–being able to watch Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain interact is a definite treat for any viewer who loves to witness the craft being performed by its greatest practitioners.
My main problem with the film is that it is overlong, and there are a number of scenes that feel superfluous. That is not to say that the film overall isn’t masterful in its evocation of a mood, it just isn’t perhaps all it could have been. And to be honest, without a spoiler, let me just say that my personal jury is still out on the so-called twist ending. It isn’t as hackneyed as someone like M. Night Shyamalan would make it, and part of me liked the ominous and ambiguous feeling it left me with, but another part of me wishes the film had ended a good twenty minutes earlier. Would it have then gotten a better score from me if it had? I can’t be sure. Regardless of where it ended though, and even with a few missteps, the film is great.
It may not be perfect, but an M. Night Shyamalan movie it is not, though I’ve heard others make that comparison (which is the only reason I’ve brought it up). Jeff Nichols’ film doesn’t reek of Shyamalan’s influence, but instead shows elements of the Coen Brothers’ chaotic angst-ridden world and Terrence Malick’s mesmerizing philosophical disquietude, but Nichols isn’t quite a Coen or a Malick–at least not yet. He could be well on his way. And perhaps in ten or twenty years, we’ll look back at Take Shelter as a minor masterpiece in the oeuvre of a true cinema auteur, an early film that showed glimpses of what the director is capable of. (Then again the first films of the Coen Brothers and Mr. Malick weren’t minor masterpieces, but major ones.) Only time will tell if Nichols will rise to the occasion; only time will tell if he has a true masterpiece in him. He certainly has some brilliance and some mastery of cinematic style–and they’re certainly on display in Take Shelter.
Take Shelter is a film written and directed by Jeff Nichols. It stars Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Sony Picture Classics
Design by Jillian Mercado
Press Photo from Take Shelter, Photography Courtesy of Sony Picture Classics