For his sophomore effort, American director Jeff Nichols takes a giant leap forward with an enveloping, disquieting study of middle America at crisis disguised as a atmospheric take on genre thrillers. Returning to the small-town and rural environments of "heartland America" where his debut Shotgun Stories was already set, but shifting the stage from Arkansas to Ohio, Mr. Nichols uses the troubling visions of an average working-class father as a window into an unspoken, unsaid dread underlying contemporary American society (and, in fact, most of the world) since the 2008 Wall Street crash.

     Curtis LaForche, played with an engaging combination of steel and vulnerability by the great Michael Shannon, sees his apocalyptic daydreams of black clouds and thick, oily rain threaten to engulf everything he holds dear. But he can't shake either of the two equally troubling possibilities: either that he is hallucinating his way to a mental breakdown like his schizophrenic mother (Kathy Baker) or that his visions are truly premonitions of impending doom. Either way, Take Shelter creeps up slowly into a character study of a man unmoored from all the things that had so far tethered him to solid ground. Mr. Shannon's gangly body, reminding us of the uncomfortable growing pains of a too-tall teenager, becomes inextricably linked with his portrayal of Curtis as an adult afloat in a stormy sea, fighting forces he's not sure he can or knows how to take on, the state of the world challenging all the traditional ideas of masculinity and of the man as the provider for the family.

     A superbly realized meditation on the American dream, crisply lensed by Adam Stone and handled with enormous assurance by Mr. Nichols, Take Shelter takes Mr. Shannon in a quietly uncomfortable journey from the light into the darkness of the storm shelter he looks upon as the last hope for his family, community and society no longer valid words in a world where any burden ends up on the shoulders of a single man. And it is proof that a filmmaker has arrived for good.

Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon; Kathy Baker.
     Director/writer, Jeff Nichols; cinematography (color, processing by DeLuxe, widescreen), Adam Stone; music, David Wingo; designer, Chad Keith; costumes, Karen Malecki; editor, Parke Gregg; producers, Tyler Davidson, Sophia Lin (Hydraulx Entertainment, REI Capital, Grove Hill Productions, Strange Matter Films), USA, 2011, 121 minutes.
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2012 advance screener, Lisbon, March 21st 2012. 


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