F.I.L.M. of the Week (January 4, 2013)

4 01 2013

The recession has manifest itself in many obvious ways in American cinema.  There has been the vilification of the rich in movies like “Arbitrage” and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” excoriation of big business excess in “Tower Heist” and “Margin Call,” and glorification of the average joe worker-bee in “Win Win” and “The Company Men.”

Though “Take Shelter”, my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” does not indulge in direct tapping of the zeitgeist, perhaps it best embodies it.  In a statement posted on the film’s website, director Jeff Nichols wrote:

“I believed there was a feeling out in the world that was palpable. It was an anxiety that was very real in my life, and I had the notion it was very real in the lives of other Americans as well as other people around the world.”

This brilliant realization of such post-recessional anxieties has made his “Take Shelter” a superb film that plays timely now but I suspect will ring timeless in the future.

“Take Shelter” opens with its protagonist, Curtis, experiencing a rain of motor oil.  This is quickly revealed to be a hallucination, but it feels like a very real way to bring some internal storms to expressionistic life.  The movie’s magical realism is a perfect compliment to the beguiling veracity of Michael Shannon’s performance as Curtis, a man who puts on a brave face for his family in tough times but ultimately struggles with some very deep demons.

As these apocalyptic delusions get worse, Curtis becomes a sort of modern-day Noah (nothing like Steve Carell’s hokey character in “Evan Almighty,” I’ll have you know).  He quietly sets out to protect his wife and daughter from a cataclysmic event that apparently only he is able to recognize on the horizon.  This tension builds until he ultimately explodes in a fit of rage directed towards a community that doesn’t understand his worries.  In the hands of Shannon, these harbingers of doom sound completely righteous, almost like the words of a prophet.

Grounding the film in an unfair and unkind reality, on the other hand, is Jessica Chastain as Curtis’ loving wife Samantha.  She plays a very different kind of Madonna than her mother in “The Tree of Life,” one fiercely committed to the safety and stability of her family and doesn’t hesitate to fight for it.  She’s the heart and soul of “Take Shelter,” trying to work through Curtis’ torments with patience and level-headedness.  Sweet as can be, it really makes an impact when she snaps after Curtis puts a preventative tornado shelter in their backyard above their own daughter’s health.

All the while, Nichols punctuates the superb performances of Shannon and Chastain with sporadic bursts of nightmarish imagery.  Whether it’s a biting dog, masses of birds, or the mysterious motor oil, Nichols sets the mood for a constantly shape-shifting modern American anxiety.  No matter who watches this and when they watch it, I believe they will find something floating in the ambience of “Take Shelter” that will accurately represent their inner fears.

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