Dvd let­ter­box

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Michael Bodey

WHEN you’re as dim as DVD Let­ter­box, movies deal­ing in metaphor can be a strug­gle. ‘‘You mean she was meant to rep­re­sent Syria’s strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence? But she was an ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive in a ro­man­tic com­edy!’’ More pre­cisely, af­ter years of in­ter­view­ing di­rec­tors and screen­writ­ers, I’m prob­a­bly the last to over-an­a­lyse com­po­si­tion and nar­ra­tive sub­tleties. The cin­e­matic truth is of­ten sim­pler than first thought. More of­ten than not the film­maker will cor­rect your man­nered in­ter­pre­ta­tion by say­ing ‘‘that’s all we could af­ford’’, or ‘‘the sun wasn’t shin­ing as brightly as we needed that day’’.

The sun doesn’t shine much in Take Shel­ter (M, Sony, 157 min, $34.99), a grip­ping psy­cho­log­i­cal drama by writer and di­rec­tor Jeff Ni­chols. The threat­en­ing black clouds and crack­ling light­ning fill the screen and the mind and world of its sub­ject, an Amer­i­can con­struc­tion worker, Cur­tis (Michael Shan­non).

In this film, the storms are pro­tag­o­nist and metaphor for what The New Yorker’s David Denby de­scribed as the ‘‘cur­rent mo­ment of Amer­i­can un­ease’’. Most ob­vi­ously it is a re­al­ist story of one work­ing man’s strug­gle in mid­dle Amer­ica with a wife (the om­nipresent Jes­sica Chas­tain), young daugh­ter and mid­dling job. But it’s so much more and the ‘‘Amer­i­can un­ease’’ is an apt de­scrip­tion for the meat of this strong film, one of the best Amer­i­can in­de­pen­dent films of the past two years.

Shan­non is won­der­ful in the kind of role that in the wrong hands would have been hys­ter­i­cal. Cur­tis has con­cerns about his daugh­ter’s deaf­ness, his com­pany’s im­pact on the lo­cal com­mu­nity and on the gath­er­ing storm. Shan­non’s per­for­mance and Ni­chols’s di­rec­tion ac­cel­er­ate the malaise into worry and then into panic in ex­tremely well-cal­i­brated ex­am­ples of act­ing and screen­writ­ing. So much so you sus­pect they had to film in se­quence.

Ni­chols’s only mis-step per­haps is burn­ing too slowly; the film is nearly two hours and fo­cused very much on the un­rav­el­ling of one man. For­tu­nately he shoots it so well and Shan­non is sup­ported so ably by Chas­tain, you care to see the con­clu­sion. And what a stun­ning con­clu­sion. Metaphor of it what you will.

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