Movie Review: "Take Shelter"
Published: Friday, October 21, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 21, 2011 14:10
"Take Shelter" could be a great film about the climate of financial paranoia in America; if only it had gone through a couple more rounds of editing. The 2nd collaboration between director Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon (they previously worked together on the acclaimed "Shotgun Stories"), "Shelter" is also about the 10th film this year to center around some form of cataclysmic world disaster. We've seen "Melancholia" frame the end of the world as a personal apocalypse, we've seen "The Tree of Life" dramatize it as a natural coming, and we've seen "Transformers 3" use it as an excuse to blow shit up, not to mention quite a few others. But nothing feels as timely as "Shelter", which takes one mans hallucinogenic visions of the end (full of acid rain, CGI birds, and far-off tornadoes) as the parallel to his financial crisis at home.
Luckily, despite it's independent production, "Shelter" looks wonderful. Nichols has a great eye for composition (if not for visual effects); producing many a quality frame that Michael Shannon proceeds to chew up. The two together feels like a natural fit, Shannon's quiet-then-explosive character Curtis contrasted with Nichols controlled visual style; itself often broken up by the violent intensity of the visions themselves.
As Curtis‘ wife, Jessica Chastain (in her 7th role this year) seems to falter. She's suppose to be the even-headed one (their daughter, a young deaf girl very much in need of a life changing procedure, is the primary concern in their home), yet her dramatic overacting makes us wonder how she hadn't lost her mind long before Shannon. Chastain appears to be the master of the ‘one tear rolls down the cheek' dramatic trick, which must occur in a good 5 scenes wherein she confronts Shannon about his own insanity. Her character Samantha should have had a deeper emotional conundrum than Curtis, yet Nichol's allows her to falter as nothing more than the ‘concerned housewife'.
As the visions progress, the titular shelter is born; Curtis taking out a terribly managed bank loan to construct his family's protection from an apocalypse only he can see coming. We filter back and forth between his visions (which, while visually striking at first, become quickly redundant and unnecessary over the bloated 124 minute runtime) and scenes of domestic ‘normality', wherein we see Shannon working on his construction job (keeping it later becomes a major subplot, to connect the threads on the films ‘great recession' subtext) or his wife saving up for their yearly beach house vacation.
And this is Nichol's biggest failing: as strong as his subtext is, he cannot keep the same momentum through his narrative. He never once steps on the pedal; often staging redundant scenes around Shannon at work (often conversing with his friend played by Shea Wigham, who gives a fairly flawless performance) or in melodramatic conversations with Chastain over the dinner table. And while "Shelter" has a climax that may achieve the profoundly unsettling mood Nichols has been searching for; the trip is not entirely worthy of the destination.