Under the Radar?: “Take Shelter”

Raindrops keep fallin’ on my head.

But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red!

Cryin’s not for me, no.

Cause I’m gonna quit my job and take out a home loa–

Oh sorry.

“Take Shelter” is a psychological drama from last year, starring Michael Shannon as a man who begins to have extremely graphic nightmares about catastrophic storms. The dreams are severe enough that they begin to encroach on his daily life… affecting his relationship with his wife and child, his performance on his job, and leading him to question his own sanity.

It’s a harrowing movie, driven by an intense lead performance, and definitely worth your time to check out.

Michael Shannon is perhaps best known at this point for his role on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” as FBI agent Van Alden. He’s an Academy Award nominee (Best Supporting Actor, “Revolutionary Road”), will be playing the heavy opposite Joseph Gordon Levitt in this summer’s “Premium Rush” and will be playing General Zod in next year’s Superman movie, “Man of Steel”.

It’s his performance that is front and center here. “Take Shelter” features a small cast, and is tightly focused on the experience of Shannon’s character, Curtis LaForche. LaForche has a wife and a daughter and a modest home in Ohio. He works as a supervisor at a rock quarry nearby. His daughter is deaf, but is about to get cochlear implants. It’s an expensive procedure, but his medical insurance plan his job provides is a good one, and will cover it.

Cracks begin to appear in his daily life however, with the onset of the dreams. In them, intense storm clouds and swarms of birds precede a violent storm that rains not water, but a viscous, oily substance. What follows is even more frightening for hm, however. In each of the dreams, after the storm, people or animals become enraged and violent… they threaten him and his family.

Upon wakening, the dreams are so intense they shake LaForche, seeping into his daily life. He begins to keep his dog outside instead of in the house. He begins to miss time at work. Most noticeably though, he begins to expand the storm shelter in his back yard. At the beginning of the process, it’s a simple, small, concrete room with a makeshift plank bench… LaForche’s visions drive him to expand the shelter radically. Plumbing, air filters, lighting, gas masks, supplies, everything. He invests in the project financially, borrows heavy equipment from his job, and draws the attention of his friends, family and neighbors with his labors.

Compounding the issue is that his dreams are beginning to manifest physical side effects for him, and he’s begun to have hallucinations even while he’s awake. He is forced to question his own sanity.

The audience, meanwhile, is given to wonder whether he is going insane or is he actually having visions foretelling an apocalyptic event?

Shannon convincingly portrays a man whose grasp on reality is beginning to dissipate. He’s confused at times at first, then frightened, at times he’s in severe denial… but always, through every moment, you can tell he’s trying so hard to be normal. To tough it out. That everything is fine, and everything will be ok. As the situation worsens, that’s a pretense he’s forced to abandon… eventually he has to choose whether to fully embrace reality or his visions. Shannon plays it all out for us with a restrained, yet expressive performance. He’s helped by Jessica Chastain, who lends her talents as the “voice of reason” character. As his actions become more delusional, she stands for what the rational course of action would be, and Chastain gives Shannon solid accompaniment by way of counterpoint. She’s alternately resentful, concerned, disbelieving, caring. Together, Chastain and Shannon are asked to carry the movie and do a fantastic job of doing exactly that.

It’s a solid movie, and made for an engrossing watch, but I’m still not sure yet how satisfied I am with the movie’s resolution. I won’t hold that against “Take Shelter” too much, seeing as frankly, that coin may still land on “I really like it”.


52 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “Take Shelter”

  1. Fogs- Love this movie. Probably one of my favorites of the year. Wrote a review a while back http://kloipy.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/take-shelter-film-review/ not trying to pimp or anything, just interested in your thoughts on my take on it. This film really solidifies why I think Michael Shannon is one of the best working actors these days. My only fear for him is that he’ll continue getting typecasted for these types of roles. I definitely think he has a wide range beyond this type of character

    • Have you seen “Runaways”? He was great there in a non-psycho role. Or at least a different psycho role. But I have a feeling he may wind up getting branded a “Villain”, yeah, definitely.

      I dont mind pimpage. LOL. I understand, I’ve done that myself now and again. I’ll try to swing by and check it out shortly man. Glad you liked this flick too!

      • Yeah I saw Runaways and he was great in it. First saw him in ‘Bug’ which is another great one (at least for me) and then Revolutionary Road which I thought he was the best part of. I just think he is absolutely amazing in ‘Take Shelter’. Think it’s a travesty he wasn’t nominated for best actor last year. His performance in this movie is so powerful and really understated.

  2. Powerful, disturbing flik! No matter how you feel about it, you can’t shake the film out of your head. I was convinced Curtis was insane, that is until the end scene. You’re not the only one unsure about the ending, many critics felt unsatisfied. Not me. the entire movie is a set piece for the finale! It forces you to rethink all that has gone before, it recaptures all the events in a heart beat, like your life flashing before your eyes. Brilliant! Curtis is not insane. He is prescient. He feels the earth’s forces like the animals around him. He just can’t read these feelings correctly. In a way the film recalls “Close Encounters” to a point. I was surprised to read the Strause brothers were producers on this. their company, Hydraulx, does video effects for films like Avatar. Must be more computer graphics backlash. I’m glad for it!

    • First of all, SPOILERS! Geeeez. LOL

      I dont know that we can be certain of the ending though, that’s the thing. So much of the movie was shown “In Dream”, with no… say… sleeping edit to inform the audience “Hey, now you’re in a dream”, well, who’s to say the final scene wasn’t yet another?

      • Au contraire mon ami! The ending was the proof that it wasn’t a dream after all. The whole movie was slow and dream like, but only to experience what Curtis was going thru. It made me think of ancient oracles whose insanity was the foretelling of things!

      • But if the narrator is unreliable, how can you consider anything “Proof”?

        There were 4 or 5 different times in the movie where you’d have to say to yourself “Oh wait, he’s dreaming now”

        And perhaps there is some visual piece of evidence in there somewhere I’m overlooking, and discussion or time or something will reveal it for me, but right now I cant be that sure…

        “Mon Ami”. 😀

      • Well it makes for an endless discussion. But then the best movies usually do!

  3. I loved this film. And I loved it even more after seeing it again.
    Normally ambiguous endings irritate me because they smack of lazy writing but I didn’t see that as the case for Take Shelter. The ambiguity of the end fits in perfectly with literally everything from the opening scene. Shannon and Chastain are both just unstoppable acting juggernauts in this.

    I still need to go back and watch Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon’s first outing, Shotgun Stories.

    • Haven’t seen that one, myself. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

      The two leads are great here, there’s no doubt about it. And yeah, I’m beginning to get comfortable with the ending. It’s definitely not a cop out, at all. Not in the least.

  4. This is definitely a great choice for your Under The Radar series. It is an excellent film and both Shannon and Chastain are great here. I loved the ending because it could be interpreted so many different ways. I consider it a character test for the audience-just how imaginative can WE be and which side of the Dream Vs. Prophet argument do we fall on?

    Loved your song at the beginning, by the way!

    • LOL, thanks NTEMP! Technically I think he got fired, but that didn’t stop me from having some fun with it. 😀

      Meanwhile, that IS a good test, but I think Kloipy gave me something to think about that might clarify. He thinks that that’s the only time in the movie that anyone else acknowledges the “rain”. I’d need to rewatch to confirm, but at first pass it makes good sense.

      Further, he suggested that the ending may be a price that Shannon’s character had to pay for losing his faith and/or conviction.

      It’s a cool theory, if you have interest, check out the post he linked!

      Glad you’re a fan of this one too

  5. A great film, carried largely by an immense central performance from Michael Shannon. He’s just incredible in it. I think he’ll be wasted in a Superman remake/reboot/regurge, frankly, but it will be good to see him get blockbuster exposure and hopefully a lucrative payday.

    • Ohhhh I don’t know, Dave… Wasted? He could make a GREAT Zod. Seriously, I can totally see him being incredible and elevating the material. Those movies are really keyed on the villains too, so… Let’s go Mikey!! 😀

      Meanwhile, glad you concur on this movie, I thought it was some pretty heavy stuff!

      • Aw man, you could have deleted the first post where I made the spelling error (I’m quite pedantic, and that shit burns, man, it burns!)

        Yeah, I’m just being a foul cynic with the rushed superhero remakes/reboots. Look, why the hell do we need to see General Zod again? There are plenty of interesting Superman villains but it feels like Hollywood doesn’t understand them or is too scared to try and make them work onscreen. I want to see Superman battling Brainiac, Darkseid or, if we want to get a bit 90s, Doomsday.
        Hell, the only Superman story they ever need to tell would be Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. Spend $500 million and make it a trilogy like The Lord of The Rings. They’ll never do that, because they’re pussies, but it would be incredible.

      • There. Happier now? 😀

        Yes yes and yes to all of those villains. But unlike the Spiderman reboot “too soon to be repeated” issue? It’s been 30 years since Zod was onscreen, so I’m fine with breaking him out.

        Luthor though? Should stay away for awhile. Especially seeing as no one can get him right.

  6. Great review Fogs. I love this film and Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain created one of the best cinematic couples in history. At first, I, too, was not onboard with the ending. I took the events of the final scene literally and that felt like a betrayal of everything that came before it. However, I spent some time thinking about it the following day, and thought (SPOILERS) what if that final scene is a dream that the wife is having. If that is the case then it brings Curtis’ emotional journey full circle as he spends the entire film trying to find someone who will understand what he is going through. By that scene taking place in the wife’s dream it finally gives Curtis someone who sees what he is going through without betraying the realistic nature of the rest of the film. Because the ending allows that interpretation I’m completely fine with it now.

    • Well, now that’s interesting too… Not sure I buy it, but it is cool that the movie is open to such drastically different interpretations.

      I will say that what you mentioned – if it’s real it undercuts what went before – is exactly one of the main reasons I was debating whether or not I liked the ending. I mean, they spend so much time establishing the schizophrenia angle that if it’s TRUE, well, a lot of the movie gets tossed out.

      Not 100%, but that did bug me.

      I still liked the movie a lot though, and I’m glad to see there’s such support for it out there. It’s a worthy flick.

        When Noah built the ark because the world was coming to an end, did they all grabs hammers and help or did they call him crazy? Noah meet Curtis. This is not a movie,as some would suggest, about schizophrenia. This is about those rare people attuned to a different plane. From the “Iliad” to the “Bible” to the Greek Oracles, they hear and feel things differently for unexplained reasons. Often they try and warn us but are laughed at scorned or worse, burned! Their warnings are never exact or precise but are open to interpretation. I think Nichols wrote this after seeing all the news on the Tsunamis and built his story from there, Noah Oracle style, biblical proportions. I think Nichols imagined what it was like to be on that beach with only moments to live and your family there with you, realizing that you weren’t insane but only trying to warn people about impending doom. It gives me goosebumps, I think Nichols had them too!

  7. Fantastic Film! Became one of my favorites of last year (saw it after I put my Best Films of 2011 list together so unfortunately it wasn’t on it) It’s one I tried to recommend to my family/friends but no one seemed interested in seeing it. Their loss though.

    • That’s a bummer, I hate that. I went through that with Pan’s Labyrinth… many people rejected it sight unseen. 😦

      I suppose now that I think of it, this might have cracked my top ten, too, had I seen it. I hate catching movies too late to make the list, LOL. “The Artist” was my big one from last year, I missed until a few weeks after…

  8. Upon a my first viewing of the film, I was quite taken with it. Then, I saw it for a second time at Ebertfest … with a Q & A with Michael Shannon and Jeff Nichols.

    A personal, unique experience like that furthered my appreciation of this film – a true, striking, daring, and haunting piece of work from a filmmaker destined for greatness.

    Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Glad you liked it too, Sam.

      Yeah, those Q&As have a way of attaching you to a movie, don’t they? LOL. Just creates a bond… I’d be willing to bet they didnt conclusively address whether the end happened or was another dream, did they? If so, let us know what they said man! 😀

  9. It’s absolutely brilliant. I’m not surprised you rate it so highly because it was effortlessly compelling, and particularly Shannon’s performance was so moving. Hopefully he’ll get the recognition he deserves at some point. I think he’s specifically good in the scene where he has the freak out in the dining hall, and the emotional turmoil of the couple suddenly intensifies. Cracking film

    • Yeah, that was great, wasn’t it? His meltdown? 😀 I saw that coming. I knew the movie needed a scene where he finally lets it all out, and the minute she said “Lets go to the Lions Club” I was like, YES! Here it comes! 😀

      He was awesome here…the praise he’s getting here is totally well deserved!

  10. Oh man, yeah this definitely flew under the radar last year. Really blew me away. An incredible movie, one of last year’s best. I still can’t stop thinking about the ending…

    Speaking of which, I recommend stopping by 3 Guys 1 Movie’s discussion on the ending: http://3guys1movie.com/?p=3443

    There are *still* people sharing their thoughts all the time, and it was posted months ago. I think that just shows how powerful of a film Take Shelter is. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it as well, Fogs.

    • Huh. Thanks Eric, I will drop by, for sure. 3Guys are cool enough, I guess. I’ve heard of them before 😀

      Yeah I was slow on the draw on this one actually, but hey. I keep up with the new openings pretty good at least, so…

  11. I very much enjoyed this movie and am glad to see you did too.

    Was a little shocked by some of the “shock and awe” moments, but the end made the movie even more worth it for me! I loved the film.

    • Cool, I guess it was a good choice to write up, then. A lot of people really, really liked it.

      I was on the fence initially about the ending, but that’s part of the coolness of all of this… I’ve seen so much discussion about it that I really formed a new opinion on it. Pretty sweet stuff, right there!

      Glad you’re on board with this one T

  12. Nice review Fogs, I was really taken with the film. Mark and Scott not so much. This was one of the best films I saw last year. This joins Drive as the two films that I think got shafted when the Oscars rolled around.

    • Performances wise, definitely. They were probably better movies than “extremely loud”, too…

      At Eric’s suggestion, I went over to your stomping grounds there to check out the conversation you guys got going about the ending and HOLY COW! 😀 That thread was a BOMBER. LOL.

      • meh only 16,000 odd page views, lol I wish I knew how to figure out how google ranked that #1, when people search for the ending of take shelter. Or that I could figure out how to get all those people that posted comments about the film to comment on anything else. 😉

  13. I’d already heard so much about this film before seeing it that I figured it couldn’t live up to the hype. I finally caught up on DVD a few months ago, and I think it was a remarkable movie. The performances from Shannon and Chastain are excellent, and it’s just an intriguing story. I’m glad that you didn’t knock the ending too much. I know it’s been divisive even among fans, but I was okay with it. I can’t say it was perfect, but it didn’t have much effect on how much I loved the movie.

    • I’ve actually come around on the ending and think its really cool now. That’s part of the difficulty now, reviewing movies as sson as I watch them, they have no time to settle in. LOL. But from all I’ve read, that ending has so many possible interpretations and whatnot, it’s just fantastic.

      The performances are excellent, I think that’s necessary in such a small film. But they more than deliver!!

  14. I’ve been championing this movie since it’s release last year. It was third on my “Top 10 Movies” from last year. I love Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon gave what I thought was the Best performance of last year. Pure robbery that he didn’t get an Oscar nod.

    • Yeah, I’ve been hearing a lot of that as I make my rounds reading about the movie. Pitt probably would have to be the one to go (I havent seen “A Better Life”, but my presumption is that Bichir was awesome)… I guess the thing is, I havent seen “Shame” yet, and everyone raves about that one, and Fassbender. So which of the two would be more worthy of getting the nom? I cant answer that yet.

      • I saw each of the best actor performances. Bichir was very good and I thought Pitt was also. I do think Shannon was better though. Such a crushing performance. Check out Shannon in Jeff Nichols’ other film “Shotgun Stories”.

  15. I’m an Indie fiend & I absolutely loved this movie! Shannon is amazing. He’s one of those actor’s that jus has “it.” I loved the way this movie pulled me into the emotions of the characters, especially Curtis’ desperation to be heard/understood. It’s a movie I could watch multiple times! Thanks for highlighting this!

Join in the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s