'Take Shelter' Review: Gutsy Performances Marred by Dishonest Ending

Sometimes a good film can become a great one with the proper ending.

The thoughtful drama ‘Take Shelter’ takes a hit during its final moments, an ill-advised finish dampening two dynamic performances.

Michael Shannon, an actor who can look traumatized holding a puppy, plays a man gripped with irrational visions of a cataclysmic storm. Or, are those panicky glimpses a harbinger of actual doom?

The film would have been better served if cast and crew called it a day before the film wrapped on the kind of false note studiously avoided up until then.

Shannon plays Curtis, an Ohio man blessed with a beautiful wife (Jessica Chastain) and a deaf daughter who communicates with confidence. Their lives are simple but dignified, and his construction work keeps the bill collectors at bay – albeit barely. His serenity is shaken when he starts noticing bizarre weather patterns that no one else seems to register.

Angry clouds clog the skies above his expansive back yard. Birds fly in manic patterns, the likes of which he’s never seen before. And when he holds out his hand to feel the rain coming down, his fingertips touch rust-colored droplets.

Can this really be happening, and should he confide in his doting wife or even his loyal co-worker (ace character actor Shea Whigham)? Those sinister daydreams soon bleed into his nightmares, leaving him drenched with sweat, a scream lodged in his throat. One night he dreams of the family dog savagely attacking him. When he wakes up, the pain from the dog’s teeth lingers for the rest of the day.

The only thing Curtis knows for sure is that his home’s tiny storm shelter won’t be sufficient to keep his loved ones safe.

‘Take Shelter’ tells a story that mustn’t be hurried. One man’s battle with mental illness deserves to be seen in every small but debilitating detail. But after while even patient movie goers might start drumming their fingers on the arm rest waiting for some sense of resolution.

Shannon’s natural look of consternation suits Curtis well, but it’s how the actor basks in the simple pleasures of family life that endear him to us.

Chastain, in a far less showy role, digs in her heels as a woman willing to fight for her marriage, and the tortured father of her child. It’s a beautiful portrait of a family under duress, one told with understanding and care.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols captures the quiet rhythms of family life, which makes Curtis’ situation all the more heartbreaking. But Nichols also has a mystery to tell, and it’s here where ‘Take Shelter’ trips over its very good intentions. Nichols throws a red herring or two our way as if to keep us perpetually off balance.

‘Take Shelter’ opts for a finale that can be interpreted several ways, none of which feel faithful to the sensitive story preceding it.

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