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Saturday, 1 June 2013

Some thoughts on Take Shelter (2011)

There's a predictable inevitability to Take Shelter, a film about the slow unraveling of a good man's life. He has a job, a family, a truck and a best friend, but he's plagued by prophetic visions of an apocalyptic storm. If this makes Take Shelter sound dull, hackneyed, and crushingly banal, it overlooks the fact great films don't need explosions, chases, sex scenes and heavy weaponry. They're often about ordinary people facing something extraordinary.

The performances are compelling. Michael Shannon is magnificent as the troubled working class hero, his physical solidity and mental trauma filling the screen with the presence of a sleeping lion. Also remarkable is the film's everyday approach to madness, which in cinema is usually either a given (most horror movies), or its development is purely exterior (The Shining). Take Shelter examines what it would be like for a good man to worry about the collapse of his mental health. It wonders what a hard-working family man might say and do if he thought he could no longer provide for the family he loves.

Shannon borrows books on mental illness from the local library to figure out what might be happening to him. This is in keeping with his character, whose hands are made for building, not Googling, and removes him from the family home in order to set up a confrontation. It's nice to be shown that you can still find solid, readable medical literature in libraries, despite the many shelves heaving with chick-lit and action-adventure bullshit. 

In a film which dramatizes potential, Take Shelter shows an actor (Shannon) and a director (Jeff Nichols) emerging as movie people with a great future. Last year's Mud, with Matthew McConaughey, pulled them further into the limelight. A big-budget sci-fi project, with echoes of John Carpenter's early work, is next on the cards. I look forward to it.

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