When I was younger, I had a dream where a man wrestled me to the ground, and as we fought he grabbed a garden trowel and stabbed me in the lower back with it. I woke immediately, but the pain where he stabbed me remained for a short time after. I remember that moment, as it was the first time I’d felt such a real pain from an imaginary moment; however, I didn’t view it as a sign, or as something that had any actual meaning other than it being a trick of the mind that happened while I was sleeping.
Take Shelter follows the same idea as the dream above and takes it to the next level, leading the audience to ask themselves: if you had an incredibly realistic series of dreams that seemed to signal an approaching apocalyptic storm, would you view them as a warning?
Take Shelter is the latest film by writer/director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories), which stars Michael Shannon as Curtis, a man who has his life in order: a good job, a nice house, and a loving wife (Jessica Chastain) and a beautiful daughter (Tova Stewart), who both think the world of him. However, things start to change in his life after he has a vivid dream about a massive storm that’s arrival seems imminent. While he doesn’t think much of it the first time, he continues to have these incredibly realistic dreams that revolve around this apocalyptic scenario, and soon he begins to take action by expanding a storm shelter located in his backyard.
The problem is that while Curtis fears the worst about what his dreams may truly mean, his family and friends begin to worry about his health. With a history of mental illness in his family, even Curtis wonders what the truth really is, and whether or not believing these dreams he’s having are worth losing everything he’s working to protect; especially when what he’s looking to protect them from may simply be a figment of his imagination.
One of the most vital aspects to making Take Shelter a successful film is the pacing, and Nichols nailed it. He does so by keeping the dramatic tones at the forefront, but mixing them with enough suspense to keep the viewer mentally on edge from start to finish. It’s a slow build, and it’s masterfully pieced together to create one of the most emotionally gripping and psychologically engrossing films of last year.
Nichols’ vision comes to life spectacularly, as he explains in the special features that this film is about 90% independent film, and 10% blockbuster worthy CGI effects. The effects team that worked on Take Shelter also worked on Avatar, and in one dream sequence, where Curtis is holding his daughter as their house is pulled into a tornado (which is simply implied by the way the furniture levitates into the air around them) was the hardest job they had since the James Cameron blockbuster – which is saying something for a film that’s heavily viewed as an independent feature.
Shannon is no stranger to starring in powerful and acclaimed films that tend to slide under the mainstream radar, and is definitely one of the best actors currently on the independent circuit (though he’ll be taking on arguably his most high profile role yet as Superman’s nemesis General Zod in next year’s summer blockbuster Man of Steel). His work here is superb, and he really makes Curtis a sympathetic character that viewers want to see succeed, no matter what the truth may turn out to be.
Of course, his supporting cast is also pitch perfect, with Chastain (who was just nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for her role in The Help) playing off Shannon effortlessly, creating a wonderful chemistry that makes this family unit seem completely real; with honest reactions and realistic hardships that viewers can relate with. Shea Whigham, who plays Curtis’ best friend Dewart is also great, and helps play a contrasting character to Curtis’ at first seemingly perfect existence.
Take Shelter is a perfect example of what happens when a film comes together flawlessly. It’s such a captivating movie that hooks you from the very first scene. I’m honestly shocked that it wasn’t talked about more during awards season, as this was one of the best films to be released last year and is definitely a must see.
The audio and visuals for Take Shelter are fantastic. The film looks crisp and sharp, with great darks and beautiful colours. The audio comes through perfectly clear, with the right moments coming through loud and clear. A worthy transfer for such an amazing film.
The special features are pretty solid, though it would have been interesting to see a bit more behind the scenes footage. At the same time, Nichols talks about how they were always under the gun as far as a shooting schedule was concerned, so it’s not shocking they didn’t spend too much time worrying about what the bonus features might be. That said, there’s still a pretty solid, informative assortment to choose from!
Commentary with Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon – If there were any two people you want to have do a commentary for this film, it’s these two. Both have worked together before, and have a great repertoire with one another. They give a solid bit of insight into the film and the characters, with pieces of info about how certain things were shot, and all the stuff you want to hear from your commentary pieces!
Behind the Scenes of Take Shelter – This featurette runs at almost eleven minutes in length and sees the actors, as well as Nichols and crew members talking about the film, their experience making it, and their thoughts on the director (at least, the actors do that…Nichols doesn’t talk about how great it is to work with himself.) It’s a short piece, but still fun to see.
Q&A with Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham – This featurette is just under 20 minutes and sees the two actors answering questions at a Q&A event. Fun stuff, as these two have both worked together numerous times before as well.
Deleted Scenes – There are a couple of deleted scenes here to watch. Nothing that would have done anything to push the movie in a better direction than it was already going.
In closing, go and find a copy of Take Shelter and watch it. It’s an incredibly involving film that really pulls in the viewer and takes them on a psychological ride. It’s perfectly paced, beautifully acted and superbly directed and is definitely worthy of your time. Highly recommended.
Sony Pictures Classics presents Take Shelter. Written & Directed by: Jeff Nichols. Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker. Running time: 121 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: February 14, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.