Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Take Shelter

I'm often very into performance-driven, high-concept works like Jeff Nichols' "Take Shelter." Unfortunately, this film doesn't reach the same heights as its peers due to patchy screenwriting and a dreary rhythm. But it does feature one of the best performance work of the year: a sweaty, committed piece of acting by Michael Shannon, working as the film's borderline schizophrenic lifeblood. He's not always fun to watch, but the film would be rendered ineffective if he were. Seeing him go for broke, it's hard not to be disappointed in Nichols for not coming through.

"Take Shelter" follows about a week in the life of Curtis LaForche (Shannon), a satisfied family man and construction worker, as he gets increasingly freaked out by his dreams and hallucinations of inclement weather (possible symptoms of the insanity that's continued to plague his institutionalized mother since her 30's). Trying to prevent horrific damage, he ends up threatening his relationship with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain), who's already somewhat occupied making life nice for her deaf daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart). She's not too happy about his spending money (even taking out a loan) on a decked-out tornado shelter when the family could be saving up for a summer in Myrtle Beach. But for Curtis, survival is the only thing worth thinking about.

This potentially brilliant scenario proves to be too tricky for Nichols to pull off. For one, the writing often just isn't there. The final storm scene is an example of when tension can be a bad thing; Nichols draws it out way too far and ends up making a heavy-handed fool of Jessica Chastain. Her part in particular suffers throughout the film. Nichols' debut work, "Shotgun Stories," was centered around father-son conflict and featured primarily male actors. Perhaps that's why "Take Shelter"'s treatment of Samantha doesn't fully work?

Also, Nichols doesn't examine the storm in the fullest way he possibly could have. The film does make a connection between money and the storm, but all the same, the idea of it representing the economic crisis is a bit too muted. But, on an even more fundamental level, fascination with storms (separate from worry), which propels many a storm chaser, is left somewhat in the dark as well. I must say though that the way in which Nichols implements a possible and much-remarked-upon religious angle (displayed in by far the film's best scene, when Curtis vehemently preaches to a stupefied cafeteria, as well as in the fact that Curtis is in his 30's) is ace. But all-in-all, "Take Shelter" is too locked-down for its own good. Nichols may have had to sacrifice some of the intensity, but perhaps it would have been a better film if he had opened it up a bit. B-

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

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