Jeff Nichols' second film, but the last one I saw of his four to date, cinches this writer/director's spot at the top of my favorites list, with a masterfully crafted, intimate look at fear and anxiety. The film stars and focuses on Michael Shannon as Curtis, a husband and father who begins to have vivid nightmares that seem to warn of an approaching storm. He feels that he must prepare for this storm, but also worries that it might all just be in his head.
|A slow-burning, thrilling drama with a very rewarding payoff for patient viewers.|
This film isn't personally my favorite of Nichols' work (the scale has a very narrow margin) but I do think it is his most precisely crafted film (another narrow margin). It's very focused and intent, and doesn't say a whole lot, but what it does say it says in a very affecting and moving manner. Going in, even with avoiding spoilers, I had a preconceived idea of where the film would go; and it did follow that for a while, but then it went beyond it in an unexpected very rewarding way.
All of Nichols' other films so far (Shotgun Stories, Mud, and Midnight Special) have had endings that required thought to know if I really liked them. But, with Take Shelter, I didn't need to think to know I loved it. It was immediately, intensely satisfying, especially considering the stressful drama it followed. But at the same time, I haven't done any less meditating on it. His other movies could have had slightly different endings and I probably would have still liked them, but Take Shelter's ending is the main quality that won me over. The whole film hinged on that powerful ending. It left one or two plot points open to interpretation by ending exactly when the story was completed emotionally. So it feels as resolved as any film can, but still leaves you thinking.
|Nails the open ending shut with the best of them.|
As he did before, did after, and will likely do again, Michael Shannon does a phenomenal job leading the film. His screen presence is something legendary, and he lines up with the film's tone and pace with matchless precision. Jessica Chastain impressively never lets him overshadow her. This is probably partly a credit to the writing as well, as Samantha is Nichols' largest female character yet, and is very well-written, but Chastain takes charge with her and holds her own against the powerhouse of Shannon.
Take Shelter focuses on character drama, but had one very impressively ticked mark on the technical side as well: the special effects. And because the film is very realistic with its general appearance and dialogue, the effects -- which were minimal and carefully done on a small budget -- come off in a spectacular way. I was beyond impressed with the scene where all the furniture in the room suddenly jumps into the air and floats there. It not the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a low-budget indie, let alone at the level of realism it reached. The quality was so high, I thought it might have been a practical effect at first. The effects were the final push that brought this film to the intense peak it needed to go to.
|An all-around exceptionally well-done film.|
I won't say much more. Partly because I don't want to explain too much of this film, and partly because I've really explained enough. This is a very simple film without a lot floating around in it, but it feels very big. It goes deep, and its depth is displayed visually, with assured grandeur, not just put into the plot and performances -- as commendable as those elements are. It's like an independent event movie; a profoundly rewarding experience to see, and to feel, and to understand.