Michael Shannon is a beast in the spectacular ‘Take Shelter’

Posted by · 9:22 am · August 29th, 2011

Not to overstate things, but it’s time to talk about Michael Shannon and the fact that it’ll be amazing if there is a better, more refined, more electrifying performance this year than his work in Jeff Nichols’s “Take Shelter.” This is his best work to date and it deserves a huge swell of awards support.

I got to know Shannon a few years ago when he was on the campaign trail for “Revolutionary Road” (which yielded him a surprise Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor at the end of the year). When you know the softhearted guy behind the work, it’s all the more impressive. And in “Take Shelter,” he covers so much performance terrain with such controlled ease that it’s just awe-inspiring. He is one of the best of his generation, hands down.

Oh, and that the performance comes in the midst of one of the year’s standout films, surrounded by equally confident portrayals of all shades, well… How many good things can you say about something before it’s just embarrassing? Let me try.

I never saw Nichols’ “Shotgun Stories,” which also starred Shannon, but I’ll be getting around to it as soon as I can. Because this guy has talent, and unique talent in the face of current Amerindie cinema that often can bleed together into an indistinguishable clutter. And I imagine actors must love him, because he gives them so much to work with, yet keeps things wonderfully archetypal, allowing for a lot of play and added nuance.

Shannon takes on the role of a man haunted by the specter of potentially inherited psychological disorder. I’ll leave it at that. Don’t investigate too much here. I know I didn’t and I had ever since glowing notices at Sundance to do so. I just sat there and let the film absorb into me, totally captivated, constantly surprised.

I personally think Guy may have damned it with faint praise at Cannes by calling it “the best M. Night Shyamalan movie never made,” because I don’t feel that at all (beyond a cute sound byte, and fair enough, that). It has real focus and a passionate observational tone. And the ending could be read a couple of ways, too, which I find fascinating. But bottom line: the film burrows in and you begin to crave the unsettling feeling it manifests. That takes some doing.

(By the way, it would make a fascinating paranoia double-feature with Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” but more on that later.)

Jessica Chastain also deserves mention because it’s yet another wonderful performance from the actress, this one less mannered than her great work in “The Help,” more organic, layered. It’s a great piece of work from an actress having a coming-out this year. But the effort from the rest of the cast — from Shea Whigham’s powder keg best friend to Ray McKinnon’s emotional kaleidoscope walk-on brother — is just as memorable.

But at the end of the day, this is Shannon’s canvas, and he paints it with the year’s finest performance so far. I cannot wait to soak this film up again.

[Photo: Sony Pictures Classics]

→ 45 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

45 responses so far

  • 1 8-29-2011 at 9:36 am

    Drew said...

    Time to update the oscar predictions?

  • 2 8-29-2011 at 9:44 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not until next week, post-Telluride.

  • 3 8-29-2011 at 9:56 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Should clarify that I really didn’t mean the Shyamalan comparison as a diss — I genuinely think this is the direction a once-interesting filmmaker’s preoccupation with the uncanny within the mundane could more productively have taken. But I entirely understand how one might not see it that way.

    Glad you like the film — do you think my prediction of a Best Actor nod for Shannon is wildly far-fetched?

  • 4 8-29-2011 at 9:58 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Not really but it remains to be seen how much SPC has to work with in A Dangerous Method. A two-pronged Best Actor push on those fronts could be tricky but my fingers are crossed this one takes off and moves Shannon to the next level.

  • 5 8-29-2011 at 10:00 am

    Michael said...

    I cannot wait to see this movie! Thanks for reminding me of this film. I remember Guy had posted a favorable tweet or two about this movie back at Cannes, and I also recall some high praise from the indiewire folks (amongst others) back at Sundance.

    Do you know if the distributor is going to do a very small initial release (NY/LA) or are they going to be more aggressive with putting it out to more cities? I’ve already seen trailers for this movie in arthouse theaters around me, but that doesn’t mean the movie won’t come out a month or so after it comes everywhere else….

  • 6 8-29-2011 at 10:41 am

    Zack said...

    Shannon, Wigham and McKinnon? This is like the “Deadwood”/”Boardwalk Empire” crossover I was afraid to dream for.

  • 7 8-29-2011 at 10:49 am

    Brady said...

    Can I just say I DID do an Take Shelter/Martha Marcy double feature at Cannes and it was the most rattling, tension-filled, paranoia double billing with phenomenal acting across the board. I’m still shaken from that experience.

    I do think Michael Shannon goes about 1% too Edvard Munch for me, but he does give a spectacular performance, as well as Jessica Chastain.

  • 8 8-29-2011 at 10:58 am

    Rashad said...

    M night has 4 genuinely interest good-to-fantastic films, and one interesting failure. The Happening can’t ruin his good graces with me.

  • 9 8-29-2011 at 11:03 am

    Matthew Starr said...

    M Night, I love his first two films. Hated Signs and The Happening.

    Have not seen Village, Lady in the Water or Airbender.

  • 10 8-29-2011 at 11:24 am

    Jesse Crall said...

    Actually, one of the reasons I got into this site was Kris’ overwhelming enthusiasm for Revolutionary Road, which will make Slumdog’s Oscar win look ridiculous in about 20 years if not already. And Shannon blew me away in that film, so Take Shelter is right on my radar.

  • 11 8-29-2011 at 11:26 am

    Parrill said...

    People know Sixth Sense wasn’t M. Night’s debut, right?

    Anyways…cannot wait! Shotgun Stories made my top 10 a few years back. Everyone should seek it out!

  • 12 8-29-2011 at 11:43 am

    tony rock said...

    I still maintain that anybody who hates Signs doesn’t have a soul. I get choked up every time I watch the end of that movie. Shyamalan was on a roll until Lady in the Water.

  • 13 8-29-2011 at 12:16 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***Actually, one of the reasons I got into this site was Kris’ overwhelming enthusiasm for Revolutionary Road, which will make Slumdog’s Oscar win look ridiculous in about 20 years if not already.***

    What? “Slumdog Millionaire” is the better film. And that’s quite random to pick “Revolutionary Road” is the film that will make the “Slumdog” win look ‘ridiculous,’ especially when there were so many other, more exemplary pictures that year.

  • 14 8-29-2011 at 12:30 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Glad to hear that TS and Shannon are apparently great. I just picked that film in my September Draft as part of a Fantasy Movie League I do with my friends.

  • 15 8-29-2011 at 1:30 pm

    j said...

    I’d thought ever since their fest premieres that Take Shelter and esp MMMM seemed much more likely Oscar plays than Like Crazy. Still do.

  • 16 8-29-2011 at 1:33 pm

    Danny King said...

    Just a note on Ray McKinnon, who I didn’t even know was in this: He’s terrific alongside Hal Holbrook in “That Evening Sun.” It’s an unremarkable film, but their dueling is a thorough highlight. Can’t wait to see him here. And the rest of the cast, too.

  • 17 8-29-2011 at 1:37 pm

    Dooby said...

    I saw this film and can’t understand the amount of hype – it builds with all this creepy tension at the beginning with the ‘vision’s, but then it dissipates when they start laying on all the ‘He crazy!’ family issues. I felt it really dragging after that.

    The visual effects were stunning though and Michael Shannon was quite good.

  • 18 8-29-2011 at 1:42 pm

    Brett Buckalew said...

    Speaking English,

    I had the same thought. Although I personally love “Slumdog,” I wouldn’t do a double take if someone who disagreed with me said that “Dark Knight,” or “Wall-E,” or “Milk” made its BP win look ridiculous. But “Revolutionary Road,” via Mendes’ airless, obnoxiously superior-to-his-characters direction (I honestly think Mendes’ post-“Road to Perdition” career has been defined by one missed opportunity after another), is a movie that basically demands the viewer not get passionately invested in it, despite the efforts of Winslet, DiCaprio, and Shannon, all of whom are still great in it. Which makes it an inexplicable choice as a movie that a large voting body would automatically get behind with great passion.


  • 19 8-29-2011 at 1:44 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Danny: Absolutely. Rightly sighted by the Indie Spirits that year, too. Love him.

  • 20 8-29-2011 at 1:55 pm

    Jesse Crall said...

    @Speaking English and Brett,

    That’s your opinion and you’re more than entitled to have it. I just feel that Rev. Road managed to effortlessly portray a marriage dissolving thanks to piercing dialogue and outstanding performances that always age better than manipulative plot techniques like Slumdog.

  • 21 8-29-2011 at 2:00 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    This article peaked my interest in many things, including revisiting Shannon’s exemplary work in ‘Revolutionary Road’ but it also reminded me just how downhill Shyamalan’s career has gone. It seems like forever and a half ago he was on the Oscar radar. I wonder if he will ever make a proper comeback. Poor guy.

  • 22 8-29-2011 at 2:12 pm

    Rashad said...

    Revolutionary Road is phenomenal, and has Leo’s best performance. The end where he asks Kate “You don’t hate me or nothing?” is heartbreaking.

  • 23 8-29-2011 at 2:19 pm

    Luv Herzog said...

    You should check out Shannon in Herzog’s, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. He was so scary and psychotic in it.

  • 24 8-29-2011 at 2:48 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***I just feel that Rev. Road managed to effortlessly portray a marriage dissolving thanks to piercing dialogue and outstanding performances…***

    I guess I wonder when directors will realize just how many films have “effortlessly portrayed a marriage dissolving.”

  • 25 8-29-2011 at 3:42 pm

    m1 said...

    Ugh, I can’t stand The Sixth Sense. Why do people love that movie?

    How does Slumdog Millionaire’s win look “ridiculous?” Most of the Oscar contenders released that year (with the exception of WALL-E, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and The Dark Knight) were certainly not up to the level of it.

  • 26 8-29-2011 at 4:31 pm

    James said...

    Glad to hear it. One of my favorite actors working today. Should totally do a film/neo noir. The Missing Person was a solid audition for something like that.

    And Whigham is one of my favorite small character actors.

  • 27 8-29-2011 at 5:10 pm

    via collins said...

    I’m with Dooby at # 17 on this.

    The film promised much, but as the layers got less believeable, I felt the promise drifting away. Shotgun Stories is a better film for mine.

    No arguments about Shannon though. Superb performance, but Chastain is the counter-balance of sanity that he plays off. Give ’em a dual award!

  • 28 8-29-2011 at 5:14 pm

    Mat said...

    I thought it was a consensus viewpoint by this point (in the online community, at least) that Slumdog wasn’t up to its Oscar win. I’d say it’s the worst of a heavily mediocre batch of Best Picture nominees that year. The Wrestler, Rachel Getting Married and Milk are all films that got Oscar attention that were leagues better than Slumdog.

    That said, Shannon caught me off guard in Revolutionary Road and I’m thoroughly looking forward to this performance based on that.

    (sorry to get off topic. Slumdog love usually confuses me)

  • 29 8-29-2011 at 5:48 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    It’s hardly consensus anything given that it was the most critically acclaimed (critics’ awards-wise) film of the year.

    For my money, it’s still the best film of 2008.

  • 30 8-29-2011 at 8:14 pm

    Mat said...

    I may not agree, but I respect that. I can see a lot of craft in it, even if I don’t think it’s particularly good. And spending so much time online usually clouds my opinion on what people like overall. Minorities can be so vocal.

  • 31 8-29-2011 at 8:38 pm

    Mat said...

    Also, so I don’t come off as one of those people who hates on something because of its popularity, I’ll try to justify myself.

    I think there’s a lot of good in the movie, but it doesn’t add up to a coherent whole for me. I enjoy the direction, sound and editing, but the love for the screenplay baffled me and the performances leave me cold. That said, I can admire a lot of what it’s doing, even if I do sometimes find it condescending.

    I’ve gotten off to a good start with my first posts here, right? Completely off topic *and* probably offensive. Can only go up from here. ;)

  • 32 8-29-2011 at 8:39 pm

    James D. said...

    Shotgun Stories is great. You will like it, Kris, it seems up your alley.

    I agree that Slumdog Millionaire was better than Revolutionary Road. Slumdog was a bad film was Road was a terrible one. Che/The Wrestler/Let the Right One In/Synecdoche/Dear Zachary/The Class/I’ve Loved You So Long/Happy-Go-Lucky all make more sense as a Best Picture for that year.

  • 33 8-29-2011 at 8:50 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Rev Road is definitely not terrible. I liked it but Slumdog is substantially better.

    However The Wrestler, The Class and Let the Right One In were indeed the best films that year.

  • 34 8-29-2011 at 9:04 pm

    Maxim said...

    “I still maintain that anybody who hates Signs doesn’t have a soul. I get choked up every time I watch the end of that movie. Shyamalan was on a roll until Lady in the Water.”

    Signs is a very good film. I also dig the Village.

  • 35 8-29-2011 at 9:15 pm

    Maxim said...

    “It’s hardly consensus anything given that it was the most critically acclaimed (critics’ awards-wise) film of the year.

    For my money, it’s still the best film of 2008.”

    Ah uh, consensus. For my money, Batman and Robin is the better written, more beliavable and a more accomplished film. Slumdog Millionaire makes Toy Story 3 look like it’s Toy Story 2. It is abysmal.

  • 36 8-29-2011 at 9:22 pm

    Maxim said...

    It makes New York Post look like it’s not owned by Rupert Murdoch. It undoes the Soviet reversal. The Hulk uses the ladies room. It’s baaad.

    What rhymes with suck?
    Slumdog Millionaire
    Doesn’t rhyme, what?

  • 37 8-29-2011 at 9:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Nothing offensive at all, Mat.

  • 38 8-30-2011 at 12:24 am

    Steve G said...

    Yeah, I think Shannon is terrific in this and I would love to see him nominated. If enough voters see it, this could be the film for Chastain too. I love her in The Help, but this seems a more weighty, nuanced performance to me.

  • 39 8-30-2011 at 2:55 pm

    Dana Jones said...

    I just rewatched RR last night and I am starting to see why critics had a problem with Leo’s performance. In my defense, I thought he was outstanding the first few times I saw the film. But the scene in the very beginning when April and Frank are arguing in the car and then continue the argument on Route 12… I felt like Leo was reading off his lines and not so much acting them out. It’s very stiff and slightly uninspired.

    Still, the soundtrack is one of my favorites… ‘Route 12’ = phenomenal

  • 40 8-30-2011 at 3:55 pm

    Rashad said...

    Stiff? That may have been the most intense argument I’ve seen on a film. I really thought he was going to deck her right then and there.

    Granted, it’s not a movie I want to revisit often. It’s so depressing, and makes you feel like that’s the inevitable outcome of life.

  • 41 8-30-2011 at 4:12 pm

    Brett Buckalew said...


    Since most online movie discussion groups are dominated by an air of machismo (the female presence is unfortunately minor at sites like this, MCN, etc.), I usually find that movies like “Slumdog” that appeal to the emotions before the intellect are easy/fun for some dudes to kick around. Doesn’t even come close to reflecting the consensus view.

    It’s my #2 of ’08, behind “Dark Knight.” It’s a funny coincidence that it’s being brought up just a day after Kris’ “Lion King 3D” review, since after seeing “LK3D” at D23, I tried to think of what epic “hero’s journey” narratives made in the years since “Lion King” managed to be even more emotionally stirring and tightly written than “Lion,” and only “Slumdog” came to mind.

    Speaking of emotional appeals…

    James D.,

    That’s so, so awesome you brought up “Dear Zachary,” my #5 of ’08 and a movie that anyone who hasn’t seen really needs to check out. I had a mini-emotional-breakdown in the washroom after seeing that. (Um, I mean that as a compliment.)

  • 42 8-30-2011 at 4:23 pm

    Brett Buckalew said...


    Re-reading what I just wrote, I do want to add that your fair-minded negative take on “Slumdog” in post #31 is clearly not clouded by machismo or anything like that.

    I just think the testosterone factor is clearly related to the highest concentration of “Slumdog” hatred existing in the online movie-discussion community, which is what misled you to think that was the contemporary consensus on how “Slumdog” has aged. (See also: James Cameron’s last two films.)

  • 43 9-03-2011 at 4:15 am

    Mat said...

    Just got back from seeing Take Shelter, and you’re right about Shannon’s performance. The slow-burn he delivers here puts almost everything else I’ve seen this year to shame. That last half hour was nearly perfect in terms of dramatic tension. Credit for making his relationship with Chastain seem realistic, too.

    @Brett I’d be the first to admit that I squirm in sentimental films, but I like to think I can look beyond the things I dislike to the value beyond. Everyone has their blind spots, though…

  • 44 9-03-2011 at 7:42 am

    cordel fillings said...

    Michael Shannon should have won an Oscar for The Missing Person.

    Take Shelter is good too.