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'Take Shelter' moves slowly, stays with you

Posted: December 8, 2011 - 1:02am

“Take Shelter” offers, metaphorically and literally, an expansive view of mental illness. The viewer, and the characters, have space to explore the concepts behind what is, and what is not, mental illness. The film takes its time, slowly but surely building terrifying tension, and is supremely acted, in the end forcing you to question … everything. It’s really good.

The people in this film are people you know. The film finds its tension by following good people in trying circumstances. It would have been easy to take the concept of mental illness and turn this film into an Ohio version of “The Shining.” To my great delight, the film didn’t resort to stereotypes to create conflict. There are no manufactured villains or an idealized story to highlight a battle between good and evil — just good folks in bad times. Appropriately, the film allows these nuanced and real people time to agonize over their choices, and the time to figure out if their choices were wise.

There is not a wasted detail. Every shot, particularly when outside, seems an homage to Millet’s “The Gleaners.” I’m not trying to sound erudite here, just pointing out that director Jeff Nichols, and cinematographer Adam Stone, painted this movie. (And “The Gleaners” is one of few works I remember from a trip to Paris’ Orsay Museum many long years ago.) Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) would be the closest example of a director I can think of who exerts such exacting composition. Every story element somehow echoes a theme in the film. Even the characters’ jobs inform their stories. Curtis determines the type and depth of soils at worksites. He drills through layers. Samantha sells her sewing, such as shades and sheets. You know, she keeps things together.

Perhaps you’re getting the idea this film is slow. “Bourne Identity” this film is not. If you thought Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” was a meditative masterpiece as I did, you will appreciate “Take Shelter.” If you fell asleep before “it’s a hell of a thing to kill a man,” then try to avoid sedatives before seeing this one. Still, even if you prefer your movies incomprehensibly edited, I challenge you to see “Take Shelter” and allow it’s slow but strong current to float you along under a wide open Ohioan sky.

Like Robert Duvall in “Tender Mercies,” the performance by Michael Shannon as Curtis is one for the ages. Who is Michael Shannon? I’ve got no clue either, but he’s on the radar now and I expect will be on the short list for an Oscar.

Jessica Chastain as Samantha would be just as impressive had the film been hers. She is amazing. 2011 has been a good year for Chastain’s resume: In addition to “Take Shelter”, she was in the much lauded Terrence Malick film, “Tree of Life.” I hope she gets a well written, well directed movie to carry some day. That would be a film to see.

I suppose one of the biggest compliments I can give a film is — I could not form an immediate opinion when I exited the theater. I honestly did not know if I would like it in the morning. The ending is challenging and my creaky Rolodex of a brain needed to process its many layers. The film didn’t leave me alone. Those well composed images kept coming back when I tried to sleep, and the next morning over Cheerios; oily rain, a backhoe cutting into a green lawn (severing the last semblance of order), and swirling starlings evoking a grand thunderstorm’s super cell. So yeah, I guess I liked it. A lot. And I think you will too.

“Take Shelter” is currently playing at the Goldtown Nickelodeon Theater.

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