Take Shelter (2011)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 9.2/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 9/10

TAKE SHELTER (2011) - Jeff Nichols

It is painfully sad when bad films that appeal to a wide audience make hundreds of millions of dollars, while a magnetically powerful film like Take Shelter grossed less than four million dollars… against a five million dollar budget… Still, for true filmmaking seeking people, this Critics Week Grand Prix winner at Cannes is surely one of the greatest films of 2011.

Take Shelter takes place in Lagrange, Ohio, and revolves around Curtis LaForche (Michael Shannon), a young husband and father who works in construction and raises a middle class family. His six-year-old daughter is deaf, and his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) sells self-woven works to keep a manageable amount of money, hoping that one day they can afford surgery to help their daughter. Out of nowhere, Curtis begins to find his life plagued by apocalyptic visions, fearing that a storm of incredible proportions is approaching. To the confusion of his wife, he begins to build a storm shelter in their backyard, which slowly begins to strain the family's financial status as well as inner relationships.

To quote Roger Ebert, Take Shelter is "a frightening thriller based not on special effects gimmicks but on a dread that seems quietly spreading in the land: that the good days are ending, and climate changes or other sinister forces will sweep away our safety." Throughout the entire film, Jeff Nichols provokes us to ask the burning question: "Are Curtis' visions true, or is he going crazy?" Not only would you care about the family and Curtis, but you would constantly be alert seeking the truth. And to make things more intense, Curtis' family has a psychological history -- his mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia the same age that Curtis is currently.

It is a disgrace that the 2011 Oscars did not nominate Michael Shannon for Actor in Leading Role. With his facial ticks and long pauses of not speaking, Shannon pulls off the most mysterious performance of the year. Is he becoming mental? Is he truly seeing the future? And if he is indeed seeing the future, what is going to happen? There is a part of us that trusts him, but another half stays cautious. As for the mother role that Jessica Chastain holds, she here has more room portraying emotion and confusion for a caring wife compared to her other role in The Tree of Life, also a film in 2011. Ironically, she plays practically the same character in both films. But surely, her performance is more raw and powerful here.

In the film's background, Nichols gives the most economic filmmaking seen in years, the type of filmmaking that has never been appreciated enough. He smartly picks when to cut from one shot to the next, when to leave the camera just sit and observe characters. Here in Take Shelter, he chooses camerawork and editing very carefully, methodically, and ends up manipulating the entire pace of the film, and as a result, he puts the entire audience on the edge, pulling us along as if we are Nichols' puppets. The best part about this is you want to be pulled along. 

In addition, Nichols here demonstrates a strong and prudent collaboration with David Wingo, the music composer for the film. For most of Take Shelter, there is no music. The orchestra and musical sound effects only roll in when necessary. Once they do, the impact is twice as strong. The emotion and suspense builds so quickly once the musical notes kick in. Again, this falls back into the idea that Nichols directs his film very carefully. I cannot stress this more. Everything in Take Shelter is so exquisitely crafted, and that is what makes the film so magnetic and organic, one of the most captivating independent films ever made.

In conclusion, Take Shelter is a film that goes back into suspenseful well-paced filmmaking, with patient directing, careful shooting, and powerhouse acting. All filmmakers and film critics need to see Take Shelter, for it represents everything that major money-hungry studios are ignoring, and is not only one of the best films of 2011, but also one of the most haunting American films ever made in years.


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