Sunday, 24 June 2012

Take Shelter

I love actors who are genuinely odd and Michael Shannon strikes me as the real deal. I admit it’s partly down to his looks. He has this wonderful reptilian mouth that can speak with the barest of movement and bug eyes that imply perpetual intoxication. Features aside, there is always something unnerving about him (creepy, if you will) and this makes him a mesmerising screen presence.

Curtis (Shannon) is experiencing disturbing nightmares and horrifying visions of impending doom. These apparitions always begin with a storm. So bothered by them he decides to take action and renovates the storm shelter in the family’s backyard. This becomes his main focus and rapidly develops into obsession. His behaviour grows increasingly stranger, thus impacting on his work and his family.

It’s a rare joy to see Shannon in a lead role. Having successfully navigated a path between arthouse and the mainstream he has generally stayed on the plot sidelines. Considering his almost-alien persona it is no surprise to me that he has been cast as General Zod in the upcoming Man of Steel. Make of it what you will, but the fearless Werner Herzog described him as terrifying. Here, as the tormented blue-collar Curtis he is not so much terrifying as terrified.

Writer and director Jeff Nichols proves himself a talent to watch. Following this he further aids the resurrection of Matthew McConaughey as a serious actor in Mud. In Take Shelter he makes the simple daily family life very watchable thus making the dark themes all the more unpleasant. The bad dreams are handled well – they are eerie and disturbing without resorting to shock tactics. Simply showing us skies like John Martin canvases create an overwhelming sense of menace. Shannon’s reaction to them is quite brilliant. It’s a very internalised performance but one so potent we’re with him all the way. Jessica Chastain - as his wife - delivers another performance so good I’m already (as is my wont when watching such gifted types) taking her talent for granted. Albeit abstractedly so, I do feel the film captures the zeitgeist. With the financial crisis ever-worsening, international terrorism a constant threat, and natural disasters on the increase the Western World does seem to be losing its grip and Curtis is perhaps a metaphor for all that.