Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Take Shelter (2011) – Review

Review: Take Shelter is a building character piece that has a magnificent pay-off. Writer-director Jeff Nichols paces the film in such a way that the tension builds and weights not only on the characters but also the viewers. He invites us into the world and mind of Curtis, completely investing our attention in his journey and outcome, and this connection is vital as the slow pacing will ultimately alienate those that do not connect. That said this film is not going to work for all viewers. There is not much action – most of the tension and drama plays out in the eyes of the characters. However, despite the slow pacing the end of the second act and the whole third act is incredibly well done, completely paying off all the character drama done up until those moments. Nicholas does not rely on special effects or explosions, and yet this is one of the most effective and affecting thrillers of the year. The sense of an impending dread that he creates is fantastic – even as we doubt the mental faculties of Curtis, the fear still sets in within us that something is coming. Take Shelter is built around the brilliant performance of its lead and while slow at first, it has extremely gripping third act, in which we are not even sure what to believe.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Jeff Nichols has now made two films (the other being Shotgun Stories), and has quietly established himself as one of the better indie directors working right now. I am definitely eager to see what he does next. Composer David Wingo’s score is probably the best of his career (or at least very close), as it works very well getting the tone just right – something that is particularly vital to a film such as this. Adam Stone’s cinematography is also very good (this is his first film to receive a wide distribution and I imagine he will be in high demand now). Production designer Chad Keith’s sets are very simple and fit both the tone and style of the film perfectly, allowing for the performances to be the main focus. Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker, Ray McKinnon and Shea Whigham provide good supporting work. Newcomer Tova Stewart is good as well in what was probably a difficult first performance. Jessica Chastain (having a fantastic breakthrough year) also has a very difficult performance playing against the lead, yet she does so beautifully. Michael Shannon is phenomenal in the film –both in the subtly, emoting emotion purely with his eyes, and physically, as the strain seems to become too much as the film develops, aspects of his performance. It is among the best of the year.

Summary & score: Take Shelter is a powerful thriller that seems to pierce into our own fears and dreads through brilliant performances and tone. 8/10

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