'Take Shelter': What the Critics Are Saying

Sony Pictures Classics

"Boardwalk Empire's" Michael Shannon stars in the drama as a man losing his grip on reality.

The drama Take Shelter reteams Michael Shannon with his Shotgun Stories writer-directer Jeff Nichols. Set in Ohio, the film focuses on a family man (Shannon) named Curtis who's losing his grip on reality to the confusion his wife, The Tree of Life's Jessica Chastain, and six-year-old daughter.

The Sony Pictures Classics film, which debuted at the Sunday Film Festival in January, is generating positive reviews across the board and has a 95 percent critics' ranking and 80 percent audience rating on RottenTomatoes.com.

VIDEO: Michael Shannon on 'Take Shelter'

Shannon, a scene-stealer in everything from Boardwalk Empire to Revolutionary Road to The Runaways, gives an "exceptional performance" in the devastating tale, writes The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney. He says, "It's hard to imagine another actor bringing such unblinking conviction to the demanding lead role. His characterization grips like a vice as he shifts from softness to menace, stillness to panic, incomprehension to crazed, purposeful illumination.

"When Curtis explodes and starts prophesying doom to a community hall full of locals, it's among the film's most heated moments but also its saddest, played out in the scared, bewildered faces of the people present."

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Rolling Stone's Peter Travers also heaps praise on Shannon and writer-director Nichols, who he says "seems to breathe as one with this gifted actor." Travers wasn't giving too much away about the movie "the better to let you get lost in its dark poetry and enveloping mystery. Nichols throws curveballs, but his film is unique and unforgettable.

The Los Angeles Times calls the actor's performance "his most nuanced film work yet" and says "as Curtis sounds his prophecies and grows obsessed with improving the family's storm shelter, the mash-up of domestic drama and psychological thriller deepens and coheres. It all comes together in that storm shelter, in a heart-stopping climactic scene that's one of the most wrenching depictions of the nuclear family ever seen on the big screen.

In Shannon's anxious gaze and Chastain's unflinching one, Take Shelter gives us a whole world — a world of darkness visible and unexpected light, as recognizable as it is surreal."

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The Huffington Post's Marshall Fine singles out Chastain's performance as a wife who's frustrated that her husband isn't opening up about his mental state: "Chastain holds her own against the IED that constitutes Shannon's thoughtful performance. She's patient and caring, but also increasingly angry at being left out of the loop. She's a wife who needs information - and he's keeping her in the dark, even as he seems ready to torpedo their future."

Fine concludes, "Take Shelter is unnerving, even as it takes its time getting to the point. Nichols creates a sense of dread that's like a canvas, on which Shannon paints a portrait of paranoia and fear wit."

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The New York Times deems the film "remarkable" and says of Shannon, "Mr. Shannon’s taciturn, haunted performance manages to be both heartbreaking and terrifying. You feel sorry for this guy, even as you want to run in the other direction."

Times critic A.O. Scott also notes that the film is "a perfect allegory for a panicky time. There is no shortage of delusion and paranoia out there in the world. There is also a lot to be afraid of."

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