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Sundance + Berlinale 2011. Jeff Nichols's "Take Shelter"

"Curtis (Michael Shannon), the central figure of Jeff Nichols's powerful, enigmatic drama Take Shelter, is living in the grip of overpowering dread," begins Alison Willmore at "An Ohio man with a wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), a little girl, Hannah (Tova Stewart), who's deaf, a construction job and a house on the edge of a field, Curtis is plagued with dreams of apocalypse, of swarming black birds, giant storms rolling in from the skyline, thunder and lightning, a thick rain that brings madness to anyone caught out in it."

"Nichols (Shotgun Stories) is an accomplished young director with the guts and confidence to pull off a psychological thriller that, despite its sci-fi trappings, speaks more to the real-world disturbances and tensions that we so often feel as mere background anxiety," writes Damon Smith at Reverse Shot. "Curtis represses the phenomenal signs of those instabilities (freak storms, the debt crisis, domestic terror) like the rest of us, until they begin to spill out in unpredictably frightening ways. Shannon, one of the finest brooders in independent film, conveys it all with riveting intensity, as well as an underdog soulfulness that utterly wins a viewer's sympathy when the time of reckoning comes for Curtis. For his part, assisted by DP Adam Stone's impeccable sense of restraint, Nichols masterfully handles atmosphere and pace, keeping in suspension whether his everyman's catastrophic fantasies and perceptual delusions (looking into the bright blue sky, Curtis sees a column of black birds twist into a pulsating double helix) augur the arrival of actual doom or are symptoms of incipient madness (his mother, whom he visits once a month in an assisted-living facility, has schizophrenia). Take Shelter should only solidify Shannon's credentials as an actor's actor (think Christopher Walken, circa The Anderson Tapes) and vault Nichols into the higher echelon of indie writer-directors with a firm grasp of cinematic technique — and a brain."

Time Out New York's David Fear agrees that "nobody does moody or mentally unstable better. You're never sure whether he's more scared that he's going crazy, or worse, that he isn't, and as the visions start to get more vivid, Shannon lets you see each seam slowly unraveling. Slowly, that is, until Nichols gives his star a big 'There's a storm a-comin'!' screamfest, which is when Take Shelter begins to lose its carefully cultivated cool. Even as the third act starts to push the narrative into Twilight Zone territory, the sense of this-is-the-way-the-world-ends that Nichols & Co channel gets under your skin and burrows there. Someone might go nuts fixating about the final rolling of the existential credits — but sanity doesn't mean things won't still go out with a biblical bang."

"The movie paints itself into a corner," finds the Boston Globe's Ty Burr: "either the character is crazy or he's not, and the strength and dread of Take Shelter lies in the not knowing. As soon as Nichols has to go one way or the other (it doesn't matter which), it becomes a slightly lesser beast. Still, good enough for Sony Classics to buy the distribution rights, and good enough for you to seek it out when it hits theaters. And the actress playing the hero's wife, Jessica Chastain, is striking and impressive; a new face to me, she'll be appearing next in Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life."

More from Kevin Jagernauth (Playlist, A-), Eric Kohn (indieWIRE), John Lopez (Vanity Fair), Andy Motz (Alternative Chronicle), Noel Murray (AV Club, B+), Nathan Rabin (AV Club, A-) and David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter).


Take Shelter screened in the US Dramatic Competition at Sundance, where it won no prizes other than two top spots in indieWIRE's poll of critics at the festival: Best Narrative Film and Best Performance (Shannon). A couple weeks ago, the Berlinale announced that the film would be screening in the Forum program, though I don't see it listed at the moment at the Forum's own site. Strange. At any rate, both Ty Burr and ioncinema's Eric Lavallee have video of Nichols at the premiere. Interviews: Filmmaker, indieWIRE and John Lopez (Vanity Fair).

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