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There's a storm coming — and he goes by the name of Michael Shannon

By Edward Copeland
Over the course of the past several years, I have become a huge fan of Michael Shannon. It took his brief appearance in Revolutionary Road for him to catch my attention and after that, I always noticed him in films such as The Missing Person and The Runaways. For the past two years, Shannon has been seen to me almost exclusively in the guise of Agent Nelson Van Alden on HBO's Boardwalk Empire. He has turned in a brilliant performance despite the fact that his character has been written into a corner and removed from the main action of the series in the second season. That's why getting to see Shannon play a completely different character in Take Shelter provided such a refreshing experience, even if the movie itself isn't quite as good as its reputation.

Shannon stars as Curtis LaForche, a 35-year-old Ohio husband and father haunted by dreams of an impending cataclysm that could mean the end of the world. Part of him worries that he's showing signs of the same type of mental illness his mother (Kathy Baker, who appears in a nice, understated cameo) developed around the same age. However, Curtis doesn't want to take chances so he begins fortifying and expanding the family's storm shelter — even to the point of taking out risky loans and "borrowing" heavy equipment from the sand-mining operation where he works as a crew chief.

The family lives in a precarious financial state as it is. His wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain, required by a rider on a piece of congressional legislation to appear in every third film released in 2011), helps to supplement the meager family income with work as a seamstress to help with the costs associated with their 6-year-old daughter Hannah (Tova Stewart), who is deaf but might be a candidate for a cochlear implant.

Eventually, Curtis' obsession begins to take a toll, putting a strain on his marriage, affecting his job and reputation in the community. Shannon, who I never seem to tire of praising, gives a very quiet performance as Curtis, which makes the one scene when he's confronted by a co-worker (played by Shea Whigham, Boardwalk Empire's Sheriff Eli Thompson) and explodes in rage, defending his sanity and warning the people in the room of what might be coming all the more powerful.

Chastain also turns in a fine performance. Granted, I've only been able to see about a third of the 276 films in which she appeared in 2011, but I may be most impressed with Chastain's work here, though that could change if I ever see Coriolanus or Texas Killing Fields.

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter marks his second feature after his debut, Shotgun Stories, which also starred Shannon. While the acting in Take Shelter can't be faulted and Nichols writes an intriguing premise, the film could have used more judicious cutting. At nearly a full two hours long, Take Shelter occasionally drags and some scenes seem redundant. Also, while I understand that Take Shelter had a relatively low budget ($5 million), some of the visual effects look hokey.

Take Shelter is far from perfect, but it does offer another great Michael Shannon performance.

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