London Film Festival: Take Shelter - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
IN A YEAR dominated by just how great Ryan Gosling is at the moment (and deservedly so), let’s not forget Michael Shannon as well.
Where Gosling has Blue Valentine, Drive, Crazy, Stupid Love and The Ides of March to his name, Shannon has been equally busy standing out among the ensemble of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, landing the role of pivotal Superman villain Zod, and starring in acclaimed indie films Return and now Take Shelter.
He may be just off some people’s radars at the moment but he is rapidly becoming one of America’s most intriguing and talented character actors.
Take Shelter marks Shannon’s second film with writer-director Jeff Nicholls after the acclaimed 2007 drama Shotgun Stories and is a thoughtful examination of mental illness set against the backdrop of an apocalyptic tale.
Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a hard-working crew chief for a sand-mining company with a loving wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), and a deaf young daughter, Hannah (Tova Stewart).
Yet his normal, hum-drum existence takes a turn to the dark side when he begins to get plagued by apocalyptic apparitions that increasingly threaten to blur his ability to distinguish between the real and the imagined.
As he tries desperately to stay sane, his actions become ever more erratic, thereby placing his livelihood, his marriage and eventually his health in jeopardy.
But the question remains throughout: are LaForche’s apparitions real? Or is he beginning to follow a past family member down the road to mental illness?
Nicholls’ film is a quietly gripping portrait of LaForche that keeps audiences guessing until the very end. But it’s marked by Shannon’s nuanced, endearing performance.
His LaForche may make painful, ill-advised decisions at every turn, but he retains a sense of dignity and decency that makes his worth rooting for, and which makes his battle and subsequent journey all the more heart-rending. And yet there’s a dangerous side to him as well, which makes latter sequences involving his instability almost unbearably intense.
It’s then that Shannon underlines the versatility I previously mentioned, veering from decent, even affectionate father and husband one moment, and confused, potentially unsafe individual the next.
Nicholls, for his part, imbues the film with an impending sense of doom that stems as much from the wonderfully constructed apocalyptic visions (involving tornadoes and flocks of birds) as it does Shannon’s fractured state of mind.
It’s both a sensitive deconstruction of mental illness as well as a finely observed end-of-the-world tale that asks questions of viewers’ own sense of optimism or cynicism into the bargain.
Besides Shannon, who deserves all the accolades coming his way at the moment, there’s strong support from the equally amazing Jessica Chastain… by turns sympathetic, scared and frustrated by her husband’s descent into [perceived] madness, as well as from Shea Whigham (Shannon’s Boardwalk co-star) as a friend and Tova Stewart as his confused but impossibly innocent daughter.
Put together, Take Shelter makes for a fascinating, thought-provoking and emotionally absorbing drama that works on so many different levels at once. It’s really not to be missed.
Running time: 120mins
London Film Festival Premiere: October 21, 2011
UK Release Date: November 25, 2011