Movie Review - Take Shelter

Michael Shannon was nominated for an Academy Award for Revolutionary Road (2008). Having bided most of his time since in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, this is his first leading role in a few years and could very much earn him another Oscar nomination.

Shannon gives an amazing performance, perhaps even beyond amazing. I was with him and even was with this movie every step of the way, even when it literally devolved into the insane, which it does intentionally. The ending and I mean the very last shot is where the movie lost me. It does so because the last shot subverts what I thought this movie was, and with that last shot I'm now not sure what the movie is or what it wanted to be.

Shannon plays a contractor named Curtis who's married to a very loving and very understanding wife named Samantha, played by Jessica Chastain (The Help and The Debt). He also has Hannah, his daughter who's deaf and who communicates through sign language. It's touching because both Curtis and Samantha behave as if Hannah can hear. If they can save up enough money, they can afford an ear implant to give Hannah sound.

Things go awry when Curtis becomes plagued with a series of nightmares that are so vivid and clear that he thinks they're real. What's troubling is that the nightmares don't just occur when he's asleep. They begin to infect and seep into his waking life. Essentially, he has a series of hallucinations and the reality of them is so intense that he eventually believes the delusion.

Shannon is a brilliant actor. Much in the same way he did for director William Friedkin in Bug, he does for writer-director Jeff Nichols. Shannon shows you a man who is slowly being driven crazy. Only his performance here is better because in this movie, there's more of a journey. In Bug, Shannon's character started out relatively crazy and then just spiraled downward. Here, Curtis starts out totally normal and then brick-by-brick is deconstructed.

Shannon shows you this man crumbling, stubborn to stay standing at all costs, but being pushed to the breaking point and then finally imploding. It was riveting to watch Shannon in this role. Seeing Curtis at the end have to overcome his delusions was to me the point of the film. Jeff Nichols is no Christopher Nolan, and while Nichols' imagined sequences are far from being on the level of Inception, there is a comparison to be made that Curtis is also trying to escape a dreamscape he's created.

If that's all the movie wanted to be, I would be ecstatic, but like with the ending to Inception, there's a final shot to Take Shelter that has you re-thinking the whole concept. It has you thinking that maybe Curtis wasn't delusional. Maybe he wasn't hallucinating. The question becomes if he weren't hallucinating, then what was happening to him?

I almost wish that the movie had ended before this final scene threw everything into question. I feel like the movie would have been stronger, if that final scene wasn't there. Some people who see it may not see it as a question but as an answer. Maybe some people will interpret the final scene as proof that Curtis wasn't crazy. I personally don't agree with that interpretation, but I can't disavow it and personally don't like that I can't.

Yet, regardless how anyone interprets the ending, what can't be disavowed is the acting that Shannon puts on display. Chastain buttresses him in crucial moments, but this movie is all Shannon and I loved him in it.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some language.
Running Time: 2 hrs.


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