Take Shelter is the new film from Jeff Nichols. It centres on a man who slowly loses his mind (emphasis on the slowly). By no means perfect, it does however feature one of the best performances of the year, in the shape of Michael Shannon’s troubled protagonist.
The setting is a small town in Ohio. Shannon plays Curtis LaForche, a family man who starts to be plagued by apocalyptic dreams revolving around storms. Some of the storms are real, others are not. He worries about his sanity but at the same time is terrified of the prospect of this storm; and so he begins to make a tornado shelter in his back yard. Shannon’s performance is flawless. He is marvellous as an average Joe becoming more paranoid and, at times, completely losing it. It is exciting to wonder what he will do as General Zod in the reboot of the Superman franchise.
The whole cast is tremendous. Jessica Chastain is great as his worried wife, Shea Whigham is fascinating as his work colleague, and special note should go to Kathy Baker as his mother. The character is schizophrenic and only appears in one scene but it does stand out. The film looks fabulous as well. Adam Stone’s cinematography is top notch and the effects of the storms lingering in the distance are well done.
One of the most refreshing aspects is how our lead is aware that he is seeing things. He looks for psychiatric help and at the same time reacts as if the things he sees are real. It shows how complicated the human mind is. In there things are not black and white and people can be aware of their own mental problems without being able to do anything about them. The fact that LaForche is failing to hold back his bizarre behaviour is even more tragic due to his awareness of the situation.
There is one major problem with the film. It is far too long. It’s a very simple story and we know where it’s going, therefore it needn’t have a running time of two hours. There is plenty of repetition and it becomes quite tiresome. In Nichols’ last (and as it happens first) feature film, Shotgun Stories, he told a very tight story with a running time of under an hour and a half. The film was unpredictable, absolutely riveting and featured another superb performance from Shannon. Take Shelter is needlessly long.
At the press screening I attended, a plump, peculiar looking man came into the room staring at his iPad closely. I, like everyone else, prayed he would not sit next to me. He did. He fell asleep in the first fifteen minutes. Snoring close to my left ear, he slumbered loudly. Out of embarrassment I didn’t want to wake him, but after a quarter of an hour I couldn’t take it any more. I woke him up. He thanked me and then proceeded to sniff and cough for the duration. I really am not sure which of his many noises was the most upsetting. Anyway, by the end of the two hours I was comfortable in the knowledge that I was now more insane than the film’s lead character. So part of my negativity about the length is because of the monstrosity I was sitting next to. But it would still have been too long if I was all alone.
Take Shelter is a movie with wonderful ingredients. It is such a shame about the length because everything else is so strong. Two hours is not required to tell this story.