A Man Tries to "Take Shelter" from his Vivid Dreams

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 19, 2011

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Grade: C  

Hulking character actor Michael Shannon carries with him such an implicit threat of violence, the question is never if he is going to explode, but when. His innate instability is the selling point and chief drawback of Take Shelter, Shannon’s second collaboration with his Shotgun Strories writer-director Jeff Nichols.  

Here he’s a good-hearted Midwestern laborer, suddenly finding himself haunted by terrifying, increasingly apocalyptic dreams. We get quicksilver visions of acid rain, dead birds and one extremely disloyal dog. Wanting not to worry his wife (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain,) who has her hands full with their deaf toddler daughter, Shannon keeps his bedtime traumas secret, while growing ever clammier and plagued with concern. His mother (Kathy Baker, welcome back!) is a paranoid schizophrenic, diagnosed right around the same age that he is now.  
Is he a doomsday prophet, or just losing his marbles?  As the visions grow more intense, Shannon’s diligent workingman pours all his time and money into building a massive tornado shelter in the family’s backyard. But will his urgent, possibly psychotic desire to protect his family also turn out to be their undoing?  
The kind of film that’s more exciting to talk about afterward than it is to actually sit through, Take Shelter has a class consciousness that’s too rare in films. It’s wise about things like bills, work and the way most of us are just a couple bad breaks away from ruin. Shannon’s night terrors can easily be read as a manifestation of that free-floating dread that seems to have overtaken the country in recent years. Something terrible feels like it’s just around the corner, even if we don’t yet know what it is.  
Shannon has some heartbreaking moments, deeply ashamed of his illness and taking visible solace in his work on the storm shelter. But there’s no suspense and little surprise in Take Shelter, it’s just a grindingly slow inexorable crawl toward ruin. At a criminally overlong 124 minutes, the movie endlessly repeats itself, with too-few contributions from an excellent supporting cast. There’s no relief from his increasingly monomaniacal episodes. By the end I was rooting for the apocalypse, already.

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