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Take Shelter


The thinking man’s ‘Twister’ is one of last year’s underseen gems.

Rod Lott February 1st, 2012

Rain the color and viscosity of fluids found in barrels at Jiffy Lube falls from the sky in the opening moments of the indie drama “Take Shelter,” serving as a dark harbinger of things to come.

takeshelter

Right out of the gate, this act of weird weather alerts audience that something bad is going to happen, and the calm before the storm will be anything but serene.

Strangely, Curtis (Michael Shannon, TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”), a blue-collar worker in a small town in Ohio, is the only one who notices how different the drops are. That’s because it’s just a dream. Trouble is, his dreams have seeped over into his waking moments, with troubling nightmares ballooning into apocalyptic visions of a storm so strong, “tempest” is a better word for it: one gray cloud cast in a solid shade of sinister, with multiple funnels dropping out of it like spiders from webs newly plucked.

On the job or at home, Curtis witnesses birds swooping in mesmerizing but unnatural patterns, and even falling from the sky as if they were balls of hail, complete with sickening thud. And so, like “Field of Dreams” without the predetermined tear-jerking end, he literally risks house and home to finance one mother of a tornado shelter: If he builds it, it will come. And only his family will be safe.

As he tells his doctor, “It’s not a dream, it’s a feeling.”

Any lifelong Oklahoman can empathize, having known the torturous, nerve-wracked waiting game that exists when our television meteorologists switch into doomsday mode, and we huddle with loved ones in that middle closet, not knowing whether the roof over our heads will be there 20 minutes later. If only you can make it that long without incident, everything will be fine.

That’s what “Take Shelter” feels like, but for two hours. In his sophomore effort, writer/director Jeff Nichols (“Shotgun Stories”) turns “Twister” into a thinking man’s thriller. It’s a slow burn, but a profoundly tense one, leaving the audience to wonder if Curtis is judiciously cautious or just crazy.

Luckily, no one does potentially insane better than Shannon, turning in another superb performance to stand aside his breakout turns in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” and “Revolutionary Road,” for which he deservedly won an Oscar nomination. He should have for this, too. Matching his excellence as his fragile wife is Jessica Chastain, capping an already great year of work in “The Debt,” “The Help,” “Texas Killing Fields” and “The Tree of Life.”

Naturally, the rural Ohio sky is a supporting cast member in itself, with Nichols depicting the weather as both beauty and beast. Only one makes it to the final shot.  

The DVD includes behind-the-scenes material, in which Nichols explains that the production was rushed (which you wouldn’t know, given the film’s relaxed pace) and in which we see how the shelter was built. Two deleted scenes, one of which is a dream sequence, are there for the offering, both more interesting than a SAG conversation with Shannon and co-star Shea Wigham (“South of Heaven”) that suffers from less-than-pristine sound, but does reveal how to deal with a dog that keeps ruining your scene. —Rod Lott


 
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