After turns in the likes of PEARL HARBOR and BAD BOYS II, followed by a couple strange and stranger Herzog films, the career of Michael Shannon has been anything but consistent or compartmentalized. Of late, his turn as the taciturn, smouldering Prohibition cop on HBO’s BOARDWALK EMPIRE has captivated viewers, showing the range of this remarkable talent to a wide audience.
In TAKE SHELTER, Shanon uses much of what makes his performance on BOARDWALK so enjoyable. In this stylized retelling of the old testament’s Book of Job, we see a man slowly succumb to his paranoid visions, wishing to find refuge from the onslaught he is sure is about to beset him and his family. Being a construction worker, the sheer scope of what he’s able to do to avoid the coming apocalypse that may only exist in his (seeming) delusions is considerable.
TAKE SHELTER is forced to draw many fine lines of both narrative and performance. Shannon’s portrayal is exceptional, crafting a beautifully variegated character. The trope actor playing tightly sprung only to suddenly erupt is an old one, but it’s been rarely as effective as this. With a fine supporting cast, this is a great character drama, drawing the audience into the anxiousness of the lead while seldom relying upon cliched moments of bombast or mysticism to keep our interest.
The last moments of the film didn’t work for me particularly well, and there’s certainly some fat that could be trimmed, but TAKE SHELTER remains a memorable and unique addition to this year’s slate. Note to future ambitious festival programmers: consider a double bill with the Coen’s A SERIOUS MAN to create a wonderful evening of Job-like misery mixed with other such tornadic mayhem.