Take Shelter (2011)

The question Take Shelter asks is; Is it insane to foresee, predict or imagine an apocalyptic event in the days of massive climate change, Japanese tsunamis, economic collapse and extreme right, mass shootings? Or to put it more succinctly; People thought Noah was crazy.

Michael Shannon, current holder of the “hey it’s that guy from that thing..y’know….with Michael Ironside in it…” game plays Dale a blue collar ™ dweller in a small town in Ohio.  He works a skilled manual labour job, loves his deaf daughter, has a homely, attractive wife (Chastain), hangs out with his buddy drinking beer and every so often experiences a dream or a vision of an apocalyptic event (like everyone in Ohio). The apocalypse takes the form of a coming storm with greasy rain and a horrible undercurrent of mass epidemic, social unrest. Birds swarm and flock and his dog attacks him. One dream is so vivid he awakes to find he has urinated in his sleep. Now, Dale’s family has a history of mental illness, specifically schizophrenia. Fearing this Dale keeps his visions a secret from his wife and friends. Instead he begins to expand on an abandoned storm shelter in his backyard. It’s no surprise that Dale’s pragmatism (he’s blue collar remember?) comes into play, unable to cure his mind, he does what he can physically, preparing an area where his family can be safe. As the visions worsen, his fear of the storm overrides his rationality and concern for anything else. His love for his dog, his wife, his daughter and his friend are all jettisoned, as is his shame, so evident in the earlier bedwetting scene. Shannon pulls a performance out of nowhere here, playing Dale perfectly, at turns confused yet earnest, he has a furrowed brow exterior, trying to make sense of a world sliding into madness, his confliction bubbles to the surface in darting eyes and cheek tics. It’s wonderful stuff and a pleasure to watch someone batting one thousand at work.

Jessica Chastain, drum roll…..Tree of Life, The Debt, Texas Killing Fields, The Help, Take Shelter and soon, Corialanus have all, or will be released this year! Not a total dud amongst them, is perfect for this. Homely yet slightly ethereal, wistfully attractive and very, very ginger she gives Dale’s wife (Samantha) a sadness and desperation that is very much between the lines. Desperate for a normal life, yet coping with a disabled daughter and increasingly erratic husband, she’s by turns vulnerable then steely, knowing she only has herself to rely on on yet wishing it wasn’t so hard on this earth.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter has a stately (Biblical?) pace that feels almost Lean like in it’s willingness to hold a shot or at least not cut away just yet. Working for the most part it sometimes feel as if shots are being left just for the hell of it, lingering and lingering until they become unwelcome. It feels churlish to complain about something about which the lack of is so bemoaned (particularly after comparing it to Lean) these days but there is a tension ruining quality to some shots, dragging out a moment until the original emotion is lost. Fortunately, the premise and concise script never outstay their welcome, at least untill….

The double ending. Take Shelter appears to end on a note that would be satisfying and consistant with the story. Not exciting but plausable. Then it spends five minutes veering wildly and clawing at the exact opposite conclusion. Although done with speed and skill it’s unclear what the taste that’s left in your mouth is, surprise or very slight disdain. The second ending seems to exist solely for crowd pleasing purposes (and we’re complaining?) and although this may improve word of mouth for a derservedly admirable film, worthy of attention, the ending that sits right occured earlier. Keyser Soze is, here, most unwelcome.



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