Movie Review: Take Shelter

Mike Finkelstein is having some really horrible dreams.  Some have to do with death, some have to do with kidnapping and stabbings.  Mostly, they just have to do with Barney the Dinosaur.  (See why I’m scared?)  Here is his review for “Take Shelter.”

PLOT: A young father (Michael Shannon) starts to have nightmares about an impending apocalyptic storm that will cause everyone around him to turn violent.  But when he starts to take measures to protect himself and his family, he has to figure out if he really is protecting them against an outside evil, or just himself.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW:  I was so looking forward to seeing TAKING SHELTER.  It won the Critics Week Grand Prize at Cannes and the trailer made it look like a psychological sci-fi thriller on the level of DONNIE DARKO.  So when I stepped into that theater, my expectations were high.

What the hell happened?

TAKING SHELTER had to be hands down the biggest disappointment in film for me this year.  Don’t get me wrong…it isn’t anywhere near the worst movie in theaters.  It’s just that it should have been so much better than what it was: a slow moving, comatose character study that couldn’t find its identity.

Michael Shannon stars as Curtis LaForche, a well respected construction worker and family man.  Everything is going right in his life, until he starts having vivid nightmares about an apocalyptic storm that causes everyone close to him (including his dog, best friend, and wife) to turn violent.  The visions and pain of the dream are so real, it ends up dramatically affecting his relationships while awake, and even has him questioning his own sanity.

I told you it sounds intriguing.  And granted, there are some wonderful details on that screen for us.  The visuals and cinematography are stunning, and for what had to have been a small budget, the special effects on the storms and dreams are excellent.  The score is haunting, and the dreams are exhilarating and foreboding.  Every time we’re in one, we get a shock of adrenaline to our system because we, too, can feel the pain.

But wait, there’s more!  As for the acting, the performances are beautiful to watch.  Michael Shannon is an actor’s actor, and as we’ve seen many times before, he plays crazy perfectly.  Curtis is quiet, but you could see him hurting, trying to figure out what is wrong with himself without letting anybody else worry.  When all of that culminates, it turns into a beautifully emotional scene of frustration.  Forgetting the rest of the movie for a second, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shannon is nominated for some awards for that scene alone.

But sadly, that probably won’t happen.  You see, the movie fails on two main levels that overshadow everything else: timing and resolution.  The pacing is painstakingly slow.  Yes, the dreams give you a jolt, but that jolt comes only every twenty minutes or so, and it’s usually jolting us awake.  When you’re in a theater and the person next to you is commenting out loud that only 45 minutes has past, you know something is wrong.  A good half hour of ‘coverage’ could have been cut to make a much tighter film, but no…we saw every single minute of what this man is doing.  It reminded me of THE AMERICAN, another film that was advertised as a thriller, but gave absolutely nothing to the audience besides a lot of watching and waiting.

Secondly, the movie can’t seem to figure out what it wants to be.  At first, we’re on the track of a psychological thriller about a man with premonitions.  Then, suddenly, he’s going crazy, and we get a drama about a mentally sick man who is about to lose everything dear to him.  And all of that is capped off by a Hollywood ending that may have been inserted to make the audience think, but ends up completely reversing any stable ideas we had about where the plot was going or what the director was trying to say.

Jeff Nichols wrote that he was inspired to write TAKING SHELTER after his daughter was born, because he finally understood the fear of losing everything important to you.  If you watch the film with that idea in mind, you’ll take it one way.  If you watch it as a DONNIE DARKO-type thriller, you’ll take it another.  The only issue is that those lines cross so much, you can’t really take it as either without contradicting yourself.  TAKING SHELTER had potential to be a great movie, and for that attempt (and the story behind it), I will add some points.  But in the end, I think Nicholas was trying so hard to be everything at once, that he couldn’t find that sweet spot to make the film find itself first.

Oh, and did I mention it’s really, really slow?

GRADE: B-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) MICHAEL SHANNON: Shannon is turning into one of my favorite independent film actors.  The man is a character actor through and through, and can play crazy like no one else.  His breakdown is by far the best moment in the film, and I don’t think another actor could have done it justice.

2) NIGHTMARES: With their foreboding and haunting nature, the nightmare scenes are the best moments in the film.  You’ll be on the edge of your seat for those few minutes, terrified of what is about to happen.

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) RIDICULOUSLY SLOW PACE: Wow…besides the nightmare sequences, everything just dragged.  At least a half hour could have been cut out no problem for a quicker pace and tighter story.

2) BACK AND FORTH: What was the film trying to say?  Was it a sci-fi psychological thriller?  Was it a drama about a man trying to stay sane?  Nichols kept switching between the two, and a lack of an identity is the result.

3) SELF SERVING: I’m sorry to say it, but between numbers one and two, TAKING SHELTER came across as almost self serving for Jeff Nichols, like a man who likes to hear his own voice.  Again, I have no doubt the intentions were good, and he had something with great potential in there, but it was definitely buried.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) Michael Shannon also starred in Jeff Nichol’s directorial debut, SHOTGUN STORIES.

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1 Comment

  • I didn’t like this movie because you never know what the hell is happening. Is the guy crazy or not; his wife is so accommodating that at the end you don’t know if she is trying to become part of his hallucination or it’s real. I don’t like movies without a definitive ending! Real life is bad enough, esp these days.

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