Take Shelter is easily one of the most under-looked films of 2011. Jeff Nichols directs an emotion-packed drama starring the always-great Michael Shannon as a mid-30′s average man who’s possibly coming down with severe case of schizophrenia. Jessica Chastain provides a more than serviceable effort as the wife who’s caught dealing with her husband’s sudden problems and her daughter’s current medical situation. Take Shelter is a slow brew into the unknown. Everything leads up to a powerful ending that opens up the entire film for one lengthy discussion, should you choose to have one.
Curtis (Michael Shannon) is in his mid-thirties and he’s for the most part, a normal, everyday man. He has a full-time job at a construction company with his friend Dewart (Shea Whigham) and he’s happily married to his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain). Together, they have a daughter that is currently in the process of regaining her hearing back. It’s a difficult struggle for the family, but due to Curtis’ excellent insurance plan, everything should be fine.
Aside from the hearing impairment, they’re a typical American family. They have a roof over their heads, a loyal family pet and a supporting family. Things can’t seem to be better until Curtis starts having these weird dreams of a coming storm. These dreams soon turn into daytime hallucinations, getting more and more intense. Curtis starts feeling them on a physical level, which is when he decides to visit the local doctor.
His family has a history of schizophrenia, with his mother currently living in assisted living because of an event that happened in her thirties. This mental breakdown couldn’t have come at a worse time. Curtis’ daughter is scheduled for an important surgery while things at his job are getting a little hectic due to recent weather conditions.
His sudden glimpse at a possibly dark future causes him to take out a loan and begin reconstructing the fallout shelter in the backyard. The more he repairs and fixes things in the shelter the more his family becomes broken and torn. His wife is faced with the difficult task of trying to understand and help Curtis while eventually putting her foot down and securing herself and their child.
Take Shelter is a prime example of a director that fully utilizes his cast. The incredibly talented Michael Shannon is finally given a role that he can completely chew up. It’s an honest role that’s sometimes painful to watch. You instantly feel for Curtis and you want him to get better, but at the same time you want to watch him fall deeper into insanity. It’s such a detailed and disturbing look at a mental breakdown.
Jessica Chastain plays the backbone as Samantha. She too plays a very torn character that tries her best to deal with her husband’s breakdown as well as the family’s financial struggles and most importantly her daughter’s medial problem. Chastain does what she does best and becomes just as powerful as Michael Shannon whenever she’s on the screen. The two have strong chemistry, which helps the film become something of an achievement for both of them.
Its career best work by Shannon and Chastain. Director Jeff Nichols never shorts the film once. Each and every scene has a distinctive purpose and it all adds up to the terrific ending that’ll either leave you loving it or hating it. Nichols takes the film in a risky direction ending it the way he did, but I’m glad that he did because it made the film that much better.
Sony transfers the film to Blu-Ray with another top-notch 1080p video transfer. There’s a ton of clarity and detail to be found on the disc, which makes it another one of Sony’s best. Skin, clothing and general texture has impressive amounts of depth and color. The film feels very natural and it looks remarkably clean and stable.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is incredibly effective. The whole film centers on a storm and the audio track helps inch closer and closer to that final climax. Rain, thunder and day-to-day noise are heard without any distortion or distractions. Dialogue is heavy and loud on the front channels and everything else is evenly placed onto the surrounding channels. I love how each and every surrounding noise is given its own level of detail, allowing for so much activity to take place at once.
The disc is padded down with a fair amount of special features to keep you going after you’ve experienced the film. Check out a full list below.
- Audio Commentary with Director Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon
- Behind the Scenes of Take Shelter (HD)
- Q&A with Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham (HD)
- Deleted Scenes (HD)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD)
- Sony Previews (HD)
Finally, Michael Shannon has a film that he can call his own. Take Shelter is his Oscar-level performance in a leading role that we’ve been waiting for. He’s done a lot of really good supporting work, but nothing to the extent of Take Shelter. That isn’t to say that Jessica Chastain‘s performance is completely shadowed over. She’s just as strong as Shannon, but his name will naturally be attached to this film when mentioned because he’s the star attraction. Both of them provide career-best performances that will for sure be looked upon sometime down the road.
Director Jeff Nichols manages to take an everyday perfect life and turn it upside down in a matter of days. Take Shelter is such a strong drama because of how Nichols goes about telling the story. He never breaks out of reality, leaving almost every frightening dream or hallucination as real as the air we breathe. It’s a startling film when it wants to be and an emotional punch in the face when needs to be. It balances on the edge of insanity for most of the running time and the build-up is paid off with just the right closing scene.
The Blu-Ray disc is a shining winner. The picture is spotless and vivid and the audio is demo-worthy. The special features help make the disc an instant purchase. If you’re in the mood for a good drama with two strong leads then you’ll want to add this one to your collection immediately.