Tag Archives: Michael Shannon

Take Shelter

Jeff Nichols’ Take Shelter is a film for our paranoid, anything-could-happen, Harold Camping day and age. It’s a jittery, tense, unsettled film for the unsettled days in which we live.

The film is about the fears and anxieties of a modern-day working class man (Michael Shannon) who simply wants to protect his wife (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain) and young daughter in rural Ohio. He worries about a lot: tornadoes, agressive pet dogs, acid rain, strangers breaking in to his house, car accidents, etc. And he begins to have vivid nightmares about each of these scenarios. Is he going crazy? He starts to see a therapist. Others begin to take notice of his peculiar behavior–especially the passion with which he goes about building a storm shelter in his backyard. But is he actually crazy or simply a responsible protector of his family? This is the film’s nagging question.

It’s become commonplace for films to raise critical questions about the “culture of fear” and its attendant problems, as if our fears are unjustified and mostly just harmful to the supposedly utopian status quo. But what if our fears are justified? What if doomsday is coming and there are good reasons to take shelter and hide? That is the provocative question this film–a hit at Sundance this January–is willing to ask.

Take Shelter is a fascinating film–an intimate family portrait on one hand and a surreal apocalyptic abstraction on the other (perhaps akin to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia or, in a weird way, Malick’s Tree of Life). Like Jeff Nichols’ first film, Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter is a film in which the tension slowly escalates and the expectation of violence builds and builds until explosive moments of release.

The 90% calm, 10% crazy performance of Michael Shannon is indicative of the tenor of the film at large. But Shannon’s remarkable performance is also reflective of the larger mood of America right now. Are we losing our minds? Have we given up hope? As a financially downtrodden family man in the rust belt, at wit’s end about how to thrive in a world gone mad, the only thing that makes sense to Shannon’s character is to dig a hole, hunker down, and hope there’s something left after the storms have all passed.

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Ten Underrated Actors

It’s been a long time since I made a list about actors, so I figured I’d do a list of ten underrated actors working today. Actually, maybe “under-known” is a better word. Have you heard of them? You should rent their movies if not. I’d be interested to hear about other underrated actors people feel deserve more acclaim…

Crispin Glover: See him now in Back to the Future, River’s Edge, and Willard; see him soon in The Forlorn.

Michael Shannon: See him now in Bug or Shotgun Stories; see him soon in Revolutionary Road.

Laura Dern: See her now in Citizen Ruth and Inland Empire; see her soon in Tenderness.

Catherine Keener: See her now in Full Frontal and Into the Wild; see her soon in Synechdoche, New York.

Danny Huston: See him now in Birth and The Proposition; see him soon in How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.

Paul Schneider: See him now in All the Real Girls and Lars and the Real Girl; see him soon in This Must Be the Place.

Samantha Morton: See her now in Sweet and Lowdown and Mister Lonely; see her soon in Synechdoche, New York.

Jon Hamm: See him now on the AMC show, Mad Men; see him soon in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Chiwetel Ejiofor: See him now in Children of Men and Redbelt; see him soon in Tonight at Noon.

Rebecca Hall: See her now in The Prestige and Vicky Cristina Barcelona; see her soon in Frost/Nixon.