Review: Take Shelter (Fantastic Fest)
PLOT: An Ohio man struggles with money, work and his young daughter's deafness. As his stress mounts, he beings to have increasingly vivid nightmares that seem to be warning him of an impending disaster. Is he simply losing his mind or actually prescient of some kind of apocalypse?
REVIEW: Wow, who know that losing your mind could be so boring. TAKE SHELTER is a film that features a crackling performance by Michael Shannon but thoroughly wastes it in an overlong, half-cooked meditation on mental instability.
We're introduced to Shannon's Curtis as a hard-working, small town guy with a beautiful wife (Jessica Chastain). They're struggling with money - she sells needlework on the side, while he struggles working machinery at a sand company - and dealing with their daughter's hearing impairment. But despite at all, they appear to be a pretty rosy little family. They're saving for a beach vacation in North Carolina! But the stress seems to be getting to Curtis, the son of a paranoid schizophrenic mother and after a series of intense dreams that leave his drenched in sweat and urine, he wonders if he's suffering the same fate as his mother.
The dreams grow with intensity and as they begin to involve people close to him - his best friend, the family dog and, eventually, his wife - his paranoia increases and he makes a series of irrational decisions to deal with the subject of his dreams - a brutal storm with an oil-like rain.
The descent into madness has made for some entertaining movies - both scary (THE SHINING) and dramatic (A BEAUTIFUL MIND) - but TAKE SHELTER isn't one of them. If the film is two hours long (and it is), it drags along at such a sluggish pace it feels almost twice that. Maybe the film is a meta attempt at filmmaking where the idea is to make the audience feel like they're going to lose their mind too?
The film is building to an eventual climax we're aware of almost immediately - is he insane or not insane - and the tedious lengths it takes to get to that inevitability is excruciating so that when it finally arrives, it's hard to care. For what it's worth, the ending is botched badly and undermines everything that happened prior, but in truth, any alternate ending - short of aliens from Mars coming down and taking Curtis aboard the mothership - would've likely failed just as badly.
What's truly is a shame is that Shannon gives a remarkable performance as a man on the edge of sanity. It bubbles under the surface until he finally snaps under the accusing eyes of his tight-knit community as they become aware of his paranoia. It's a powerful scene; very Oscar© moment! but still works. If only it had come about thirty minutes sooner. Shannon's rage and confusion and embarrassment flow underneath his skin until the considerable bags under his eyes tremor with fervor.
Not to be outdone is Chastain, a seemingly omnipresent figure at the movies this year. A lesser actress may not have been able to stand alongside Shannon in this film but Chastain pulls it off as she struggles to understand how and why her family is falling apart (yet never alienating her husband and always shielding their daughter).
But alas, a movie is more than just the sum of its parts. Good performances alone do not a good movie make. If you like checking out a movie to see what actors people will be buzzing about come Oscar time, then perhaps TAKE SHELTER is for you. But if you crave an entertaining and fulfilling story, you'll be let down.