Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a working class man with a beautiful wife (Chastain) and a deaf daughter. He starts to have strange dreams that involve the apocalypse, and the endangerment of his family.


Eventually, Curtis decides that he must protect his family by preparing the bomb shelter in his backyard. All of this happens while everyone around him thinks he's crazy. Or is he? Eventually, Curtis starts to lose grip of his sanity to visions that could come from paranoia, just as much they feel like premonitions.


"Take Shelter" has a bit more of what I'm about to state going on, but it really is this simple: "Is he crazy or not?" While Curtis exhibits his strange behavior, we can only think of this central question. Especially he goes deeper into the anxieties of his own mind, we all just want to see what's real, and what’s not.

"Take Shelter" makes us wait patiently as we scour through events that can have us thinking one way or the other. Either way, we're simply watching Curtis prepare for an event that we are possibly more concerned about than the character himself.


Considering Michael Shannon's tendency to play actors who are on the fringe of insanity, this role for "Take Shelter" is a near perfect fit for him – it even plays into its humble looks and everyman appearance. As the movie's central subject, he plays this role quietly. His slightly freaky presence is curious, and the gears are always turning in his head.


Jessica Chastain, who has been having one heck of a year, adds another notable performance to her 2011 filmography. As the wife to Curtis, she plays a strong supportive force to the strange habits of her husband. But as a mother constantly worried about the health and safety of her deaf daughter, she also goes into matriarch mode in sharp situations. Some of her best moments are when she's being a mother to her husband, but in a disciplinary fashion. She keeps him in line, and sometimes forcefully. It certainly adds an interesting dynamic to their on-screen marriage, which has tense chemistry.


Writer/director Jeff Nichols' script for "Take Shelter" aims to keep things as natural as possible. This is certainly the case with his dialogue, which comes without heavy dramatics or cheesy lines. Shannon only has one big monologue in which he freaks out in public, and it's a fairly powerful scene.

The visuals of "Take Shelter" are pretty hit and miss. For example, the opening shot of Shannon standing in front of his house is beautiful. The cinematography keeps this wondrous touch whenever it shoots outside of his house, especially in his backyard, which offers some opportune wide shots of the fields surrounding his property.


Yet on the other hand, some of the effects can appear too cheap for this independent movie. Weather effects in the beginning of the movie look a bit phony. The worst are some bird effects that reminded me of the movie "Birdemic: Shock and Terror," which isn't a compliment in the slightest. Its hit-and-miss effects don't spoil the overall horror of "Take Shelter", but it takes away from the film being a fully immersive experience.


I won't spoil anything about the ending, but with such a build up to the film's final moments, the conclusion doesn't provide enough satisfaction. It's not the point in which "Take Shelter" chooses to cut to black that's disappointing, but the decision the movie

ultimately makes about its dilemma, and its character. It’s not a "Eureka!" ending, or anything that will really shake you. It's an ending point that has you thinking, "Oh...okay." Cut to black, roll credits, walk out of the theater, etc.


"Take Shelter" loses proper tension as it continues to ruminate on a straightforward predicament of a man’s insanity. Chicago’s own Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain carry the movie earnestly through its high and low points.   -- NICK ALLEN, is also a film critic for The Scorecard Review and member of Chicago Film Critics Association