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USA 2011
Directed by
Jeff Nichols
120 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars

Take Shelter

Synopsis: Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a loyal family man married to Samantha (Jessica Chastain). Suddenly plagued by apocalyptic visions, he begins to prepare for the impending doomsday, sending his family into chaos.

A fairly common thread in the stories of biblical prophets is that they would really rather be doing something else. Jonah ran away, Jeremiah cursed God, and Samuel needed someone else to tell him God was speaking to him. An enthusiastic prophet is someone to be wary of. So the genius of Take Shelter is that it hews closely to this idea, and expands on it in a way that’s highly original. Curtis might be struggling under the weight of his visions, but even as he is compelled by their potency, he doesn’t believe them.

This is a wholly original take on the mad prophet tale. Curtis is a man fighting against his visions, fully aware that he’s probably insane and trying to work around it. Against him is the fact that the decisions he makes are being made while going mad. He can’t win, he’s incapable of making rational decisions, but he’s going to go down swinging all the same. And the ways he tries to accommodate his increasing paranoia places more and more stress on his marriage, destroys his friendships and sends his life into a downward spiral.

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Shannon carrying off the role, so completely does he own it. The inner turmoil of the man is completely compelling, and sympathetic. His mother abandoned her family after a psychotic breakdown and was put into care. Her abandonment of him scarred the young Curtis and he vowed he would never abandon his own family. But now he has to contend with the possibility that he is also going mad and might require some kind of ongoing care himself, so he searches for another option, a way to stay with his family. The ways he tries to keep a lid on his fears, work around his convictions and hold his family together is deftly handled.

There’s nothing extraordinary about Nichols’ film in a formal sense. No flashy cinematography, no narrative twists, nothing to draw attention to itself as a wholly original and groundbreaking piece of cinema. But it is. You’ve never seen a story like this, a character piece of amazing power and integrity. The only thing that will divide audiences is the ending. I’m willing to defend it, but plenty of people will feel that it undermines what came before. It depends on how you choose to take the content of the film. Even so, Take Shelter is an absolute must-see for lovers of quality cinema.




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