Thursday, 5 April 2012

Movie Review - 'Take Shelter'

I became hooked on Take Shelter over a year ago when some blogger (which for the life of me I can neither remember nor find on Google) posted a list of his favourite films of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. This list also included The Woman, which ended up being my number one movie of 2011. Then came the Take Shelter trailer, which was definitely one of the best of 2011. And of course you have Michael Shannon (curiously underrated) and Jessica Chastain (the next big thing). Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see this movie. It just so happens that it's out on DVD (not in SA) and I've seen it twice already. It's also hitting theatres locally this weekend. Is it worth 2 hours of your precious time and R55.00 you probably don't have? Hit the jump for my review.

For some reason, perhaps apathy, I found it particularly difficult to describe what the film is about, so here is part of the official synopsis (trimmed down so as to avoid spoilers):

Curtis LaForche lives in a small town in Ohio with his wife, Samantha, and daughter, Hannah, a six-year-old deaf girl. When Curtis begins to have terrifying dreams, he keeps the visions to himself, channeling his anxiety into obsessively building a storm shelter in his backyard. His seemingly inexplicable behavior concerns and confounds those closest to him, but the resulting strain on his marriage and tension within his community can’t compare with Curtis’s privately held fear of what his dreams may truly signify.

In essence then, Take Shelter is a psychological drama / thriller that deals with issues of mental illness (schizophrenia). However, it is also a Biblical allegory, a Noah's Ark tale of sorts. I can certainly see where Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) - who is the absolute master when it comes to psychologically traumatised characters - could be going with his new film Noah, and Take Shelter may actually be an interesting companion piece when that film is finally released. It is this other aspect that makes Take Shelter such an incredibly powerful film, but discussing that here would probably spoil things for you. So trust me on this one: Take Shelter goes far beyond a small-town American family dealing with the mental illness of its breadwinner. 

Apart from its thematic richness, the strength of Take Shelter lies in performances by its two lead characters. Michael Shannon, the afflicted one, was just terrific. Okay, his demeanour exudes mental instability at the best of times, but in this film he displays a range of emotion - from utmost subtlety to the rantings of a madman - which makes me wonder why he did not crack an Oscar nod. I am not alone in that uncertainty either. As for Jessica Chastain, she really is the epitome of tenderness, playing a character similar to the one she portrayed in The Tree of Life. Except, in Take Shelter she too is required to test the emotional limits, and does it brilliantly. 

If I had one criticism of the film, it would be that the running time was maybe slightly too long. At just over 2 hours, I felt that a film of this nature could easily shed a little fat to come in at about 1h45. That being said, the wait is totally worth it, and you will leave the theatre with something to think about. If you liked the other "art" films that have introduced elements of genre cinema recently - movies like Melancholia, Another Earth, Black Swan and even Un Prophet, then Take Shelter is definitely one you cannot miss!

8.5 out of 10

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