Storm Warning

Michael Shannon plays stressed-out dad in 'Take Shelter'


It’s hard to imagine a more timely film than the harrowing Take Shelter. Watching it, one thinks of Herman Cain’s offhand comment that a failed person in America only has himself to blame. This message was hardly worth even a little of Cain’s substantial quantity of wind, since every working person has internalized it already.

Take Shelter stars Michael Shannon in a phenomenally tough piece of acting, fulfilling the promise he showed in his breakthrough part in Revolutionary Road. Shannon plays Curtis, a drill-rig operator whose rage is particularly slow-cooked. His wife, Samantha—played by Jessica Chastain, capping a remarkable year as an actress—holds down a swap-meet booth on the weekends; her off-hours are spent bugging the insurance company to authorize a cochlear implant.

It’s an uneventful life. Or it would be, if it weren’t for a vision of a coming storm that bolts Curtis out of his sleep. This portent causes Curtis to dig up his backyard, and mortgage his house and future. He excavates a crater large enough to fit a subterranean shelter. When not watching the skies, his nightmares are growing. He dreams first of his dog, then Samantha, and then of gravity itself, all coming unglued.

Our holy books are full of this kind of story—of a prophet being given signs. But the movie gives us an alternative explanation, provided in a small but incisive role by the too-seldom-seen Kathy Baker.

Take Shelter‘s very title is resonant in a nation as high-strung as a harpsichord, quivering with bunker mentality. Just as Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life showed how many fathers were strangling on their neckties in Ike’s day and Todd Haynes’ Safe perfectly outlined the gargantuan affluence and bad chemicals of the Reagan years, Take Shelter seems keyed to the madness of our times.

‘Take Shelter’ opens Friday, Oct. 28, at Summerfield Cinemas.

Sonoma County Library