Take Shelter [DVD]
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Throughout the history of film, the idea of mental illness has been a topical favorite. From One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest to Black Swan, the fragility of the human mind has been tested and pushed beyond its breaking point, often making for powerful cinematic experiences that extend beyond intrigue, poignantly examining the human condition. Take Shelter should surely be counted among these greats. Jeff Nichols has created a heavyweight drama that features Michael Shannon putting forth the best screen performance of 2011 as Curtis, a husband and father who knowingly starts having delusions and must deal with them head on in order to keep his loving family together. It's a real shame that the Academy didn't even bother to give him a nomination nod for his outstanding work. Luckily, Sony Picture Classics had the good sense to distribute this masterful film for our thorough enjoyment.
Curtis has a family history of mental illness, so when he starts having wildly vivid dreams about an oncoming storm that leave him physically ill upon awaking, he grows increasingly worried. As the dreams slowly become waking delusions, he decides to see a counselor without mentioning the issue to his wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain). Despite knowing full well that his visions are but a figment of his imagination, he decides to overhaul the storm shelter in his backyard, ultimately taking out a home improvement loan to expand the underground space to keep his family safe in the event of an actual storm. The strain is made worse as his affliction expands, ultimately effecting his job, his friends, and his family (even putting his deaf daughter's ear surgery at risk). The storm may not be real, but when it figuratively rains, it pours.
Take Shelter isn't a flashy piece of filmmaking, but it is an impeccably made film in every aspect; from the perfectly framed cinematography of Adam Stone to the tone setting score of David Wingo. Michael Shannon has had some impressive roles prior to this, but he is absolutely stunning here. His turn as Curtis highlights his uncanny capacity to portray a blue collar working man, unhinged with both a genuine tenderness and an intensity that sends tingles down the spine. In doing so, a tragic story of the onset of mid-life mental illness comes across with chilling authenticity. The resulting film makes for an intense psychological character study that holds family above all, even in the face of tumultuous woe.
Sony Picture Classics has once again released an outstanding home release that features not only a wonderful A/V presentation, but a handful of substantial extras. Visually, the DVD looks quite crisp. The film itself doesn't have a very vibrant color palette, but the neon yellows and natural greens that do show up are quite vivid. They accent the mostly grey and blue film nicely. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack included is quite lively, packing some deep bass for the many storm sequences that lace the film. Wingo's string heavy score sounds rich and a warm, and even the surrounds get quite a lot of intelligent use, enriching the rural environment. For extras, we are treated to an enlightening and entertaining audio commentary track featuring director Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon. They speak on a wide variety of production details, stories about working with different cast members, and their ideas about some of the themes found in the film. There are also two deleted scenes, an interesting 20 minute Q&A with Shannon and Shea Whigham, a 10 minute “making of” piece, and the theatrical trailer. The disc itself comes packaged in a rather dull looking standard DVD case.
Easily one of the best films of 2011, Take Shelter has gladly received a deserving home release. If you've seen any of Shannon's previous work, you probably made sure to see this in theaters, but if not, now is the time. You won't regret a blind buy with this one.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: February 14, 2012