Movie Review: Take Shelter

By Stephen Rebello

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Michael Shannon delivers one of the year's best performances in his latest collaboration with director Jeff Nichols.


Director: Jeff Nichols MPAA Rating: (R) Studio: Grove Hill Productions

Michael Shannon delivers one of the year’s great performances in Take Shelter. The tense, troubling film is written and directed by Jeff Nichols, who grabbed attention with his 2007 film Shotgun Stories, which also starred Michael Shannon. Their newest collaboration—a hybrid of a psychological horror film, a family drama and something metaphysical—casts Shannon as a decent, blue collar Midwestern husband and father who is buckling under the weight of trying to make ends meet in a shattered economy. His loving, no nonsense wife (beautifully played by Jessica Chastain) sells homemade items at garage sales and flea markets, and their 6-year-old hearing impaired daughter (Tova Stewart) requires special education and an expensive cochlear transplant.

With plenty on his plate already, our hero becomes increasingly obsessed by dreams of a terrifying storm that, to him, predicts a Biblical apocalypse. Driven and frantic to protect his wife and child, he feels he must build a complicated, costly storm shelter. His wife lovingly supports him, even though both fear for his sanity and their survival as a couple. Is he experiencing prophetic visions? Is he suffering hallucinations and succumbing to mental problems of the kind endured by his hospitalized paranoid schizophrenic mother (Kathy Baker)? The film, which doesn't spell anything out, unfolds slowly, claustrophobically. It’s jagged and harrowing in ways that sometimes recall early Polanski or Peter Weir laced with more than a touch of Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan.

Shannon, a standout in Revolutionary Road and on Boardwalk Empire, is magnificent here. As the movie’s centerpiece, his performance, despite his character’s sometimes manic, erratic, out-there behavior, is so human, sympathetic and relatable that it crushes your heart. It’s Shannon’s terrifying descent that haunts you long after the movie's final, disturbing fadeout.

About the Author

Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interview and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.


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