Storm's a coming. The air smells of it. The skies are churning. The rain will come, the wind and toxins wiping away humanity. The world is going to end. In Take Shelter, Michael Shannon stars as a man suffering from apocalyptic visions of the near future. He's certain that horrific storms will soon kill everyone in sight, including his family. Then again, he's also certain he's beginning to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia.
Shannon delivers a masterful performance as Curtis LaForche, who lives a simple but rewarding life in a small town in Ohio with his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart). Troubled by terrifying dreams, he decides to build an extensive storm shelter in his backyard, straining the relationship with his wife. Unfortunately, his mother suffers from schizophrenia and he fears his visions may be symptoms of the same disease.
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, which also starred Shannon), Take Shelter is a compelling drama that gets into the head of a man suffering from delusions. A slow-boil thriller, the film paints a vivid picture of the confusion, uncertainty and desperation of a person who faces two equally horrific scenarios: the end of the world, or the end of his own sanity.
Shannon, who will play General Zod in next year's The Man of Steel, delivers an award-worthy performance. As well-written as the movie is, it's Shannon who allows the audience into his character's mind. His subtle, moving performance is saddening yet relatable, his characters' concerns all too common while his challenges seemingly insurmountable. Few actors could do what Shannon does here.
As well done as Take Shelter is, it has one glaring flaw: it's extremely slow. While never boring, it is tedious at times, its pacing painfully methodical. At over two hours in length, the movie could have been tightened in a few areas to accelerate the plot. Nichols' approach makes sense from a character perspective, but it comes at a price: by the time things get interesting, most people will have wanted the film over for some time.
By "most people" I mean me.
I wanted to love the movie. Shannon is terrific, as is Chastain and co-star Shea Whigham. The movie is beautifully shot, the story compelling. But it's so slow that it feels like it's three hours long. That's a problem, no matter how well a movie is made.
Still, for people who like powerful performances and psychological thrillers, it's hard not to recommend Take Shelter. It isn't entertaining, but it's a fascinating character study. Now about that ending...
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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