Movies watched: Midnight Special, Take Shelter
Where watched: Lakewood Towne Center, home
Time: 111 minutes, 121 minutes
Total elapsed time: 23 hours, 56 minutes
My best friend Tom has been singing the praises of writer/director Jeff Nichols for awhile now, and he asked me if I wanted to see his newest film, Take Shelter. Of course I said yes. Up to this point, the only Nichols film I had seen was Mud, the Matthew McConaughey flick from 2012. I liked that movie, but I didn’t love it. The story line was original, and the story worked for the most part. I just felt that the languorous pace did not justify the payoff. But this was clearly a director who was making his movie.
So Midnight Special stars Jeff Nichols’ go-to actor, Michael Shannon, as the father of a boy who has some strange powers. The boy’s mother is played by Kirsten Dunst, and it’s nice to see her having a bit of a resurgence with this and the most recent season of Fargo on television. Also featured prominently is Joel Edgerton, an actor who continues to impress with every performance. Obviously Jeff Nichols enjoys casting kids in central roles; all of his movies involve children as central plot figures. And the child actor, Jaeden Lieberher, who already appeared in the slightly overrated St. Vincent, is quite good in this movie.
The movie moves at the pace of Nichol’s earlier movies, with the plot advancing deliberately, then suddenly exploding into action. Some have seen this movie as an allegory for faith, or religion. Nichols himself says it is all about parenthood. Nichols is a true auteur, in the sense that Hitchcock and Kurosawa were; his fingerprints are all over his movies, good or bad. This movie may actually suffer for the big-budget special effects at the end, which almost seem out of place. His last movie, the aforementioned Mud, was made for just under $10 million, a bargain by today’s standards, and grossed over $30 million. So for this movie his budget was closer to $20 million. But I’m not sure those CGI effects were really necessary to tell the type of story that Nichols wanted to tell. He should just stick to making his movies, and his audience will find him.
So much as I thought with Mud, I would say this was a good, but not great film. Definitely worth watching.
So then Tom loaned me Nichols first two movies so I could watch them at home. I watched Take Shelter, and I can say that so far this is Jeff Nichols’ masterpiece. It is close to a flawless film; the writing, directing and performances all work seamlessly together. Michael Shannon stars again, as a man who begins to have visions about a violent storm approaching. His dreams, and his preparations for this storm, begin to take a toll on both his job and his family life. His mother was institutionalized for schizophrenia many years earlier. Is he following in her footsteps? Is he seeing true visions of the future? I will leave it to you to see the movie and draw your own conclusions.
Just out of curiosity, I googled the phrase “Take Shelter allegory” to see what popped up. There are people who think this movie is about religious fanaticism, doomsayers, and even climate change. Personally, I think the most important word to think about when watching a Jeff Nichols movie is “family”. This movie comes highly recommended, and is a great starting place for Jeff Nichols’ films. But I applaud his entire catalog. He is original, he makes the movies he wants to make, and he requires his audience to be active participants and bring their own thoughts and feelings to bear. He reminds me of directors like Michael Haneke and Julio Medem, whose films are not always great, but are always original. And because of that, I will always go along for the ride.