Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ebert Thoughts ‘12—Take Shelter (2011) ****

R, 121 min.
Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Tova Stewart, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker

“Take Shelter” is the second film I’ve watched because of Ebertfest mere months since my initial screening. I reviewed this amazing movie from last year less than two months ago as a Penny Thoughts. You can read my initial impressions here.

The strongest argument for the greatness of this movie is that with only a few weeks passing between screenings, I was just as easily sucked into it the second time through. I think this one would’ve ranked in the top three of my favorite films of last year, had I seen it time to make my best of list.

What I would like to discuss this time around is the time of day we watch movies. “Take Shelter” is the second film by Jeff Nichols, who is proving himself to be a master of atmosphere and evocation of a specific location. I suppose he’s also a master of the evocation of a particular time of day. He debut film was the excellent “Shotgun Stories”, which I first experienced at Roger Ebert’s Film Festival in 2008. Both movies are best watched at a specific time of day. In fact their timing, could make for an amazing double feature.

“Shotgun Stories” is definitely made for late afternoon, probably summer time. “Take Shelter” is definitely best screened at dusk, ending after nightfall, probably in late spring. While the seasons of the two films don’t match up as well, the timing during that day could match them together on a double bill easily.

“Take Shelter” is definitely made for severe weather season in the Midwest. The plot of the film deals directly with its main character’s paranoia about a major storm on the horizon. What he fears is more than a mere tornado. It is something much larger that will affect all life on Earth, but Nichols deals with his dilemma on a very personal level. The globality of it is a subtle detail that comes across as a product of his paranoia at first but is ominously suggested in the film’s final moments.

This notion of certain movies being made for certain times of day, and even certain times of year, is not new to me. Through the years I’ve heard many people mention how they like to watch this movie at that time of year, or some such thing. I wonder if this is something the filmmaker intends when he sets out to make a movie. Certainly it cannot be a high priority in the grand scheme of constructing a work of cinematic art, but as a fairly universal concept between audiences, it must occur to some filmmakers that his film is perfect for this time of year and some of the cinematography can be geared towards shaping the movie for specific times of day and year.

Jeff Nichols seems to be working through his cinematic day chronologically so far. Maybe his next movie (which is entitled “Mud” and will compete in this year’s Cannes Film Festival) will be one that must be viewed only during the darkest of nights. I don’t know much about it, so I can’t really speculate about it’s subject. Maybe it’s a morning film.

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