Sunday, October 30, 2011

Take Shelter and Sarah's Key

 This paranoia drama, from Shotgun Stories director Jeff Nichols, has been getting a stack of praise lately. Michael Shannon, excellent as always, plays Curtis, a blue collar family man whose grip on reality slowly loosens when he begins dreaming of fatal weather events. The dreams eventually become his reality and he becomes a danger to himself and others.

Nichols builds a certain amount of tension, but because we know fairly early on that Shannon is imagining everything, the suspense is just: When will he snap?

For me, it was too slow and protracted. It's a thirty minute idea (a 'Twilight Zone' episode) stretched to two hours. The length wouldn't be a huge issue if the climax was worth the wait. It isn't. In fact, it's quite a cinematic whimper, a big So What! moment. The 'Twilight Zone' would have delivered a socko ending. This fails to.

The paranoia stuff was standard, so I took some enjoyment from the relationship Shannon has with his friend and work colleague Dewart (Shea Whigham). As Curtis gets crazier, the relationship fractures, and Curtis attempt to protect his mate from the fallout of a dodgy scheme involving work equipment. Whigham acquits himself very nicely in this role, as does Jessica Chastain as his supportive wife Samantha.

Could have done without this film.

I had a little more love for Sarah's Key, a French flick about French Jews who were betrayed by some of their own people during wartime. Kristin Scott Thomas, a journalist, uncovers a story in which a a little boy is left behind (in a closet) by his sister and parents when they are sent to Auschwitz. The girl (Sarah) escapes and harbors a hope that she will be able to save her brother. Not surprisingly, things don't work out so well.

Problem A: Although the above is dramatic and tragic and interesting, there's not enough of it to fill a movie told this way. Clearly, the producers recognized this issue, so they added Thomas's journalist storyline to the drama to fill out the running time. Unfortunately, it doesn't work because we see many of the events before Thomas learns about them. Her role is superfluous. Problem B: Sarah, the most interesting person in the movie, gets sidelined after the sad events of her childhood. Because we learn what finally happened to her, it's clear she blamed herself for her brother's tragic fate. What riveting viewing it would have made to see her struggling with this terrible guilt. We don't see it. Instead, we get Thomas uncovering this detail and that detail and discovering a personal connection with Sarah's family. Who cares?! Problem C: Point of view. The film should have dispensed with Thomas and told its story from Sarah's POV. That would have been much more interesting.

Why the Thomas character? Financing? She's a name and Sarah (Melusine Mayance in a terrific turn) isn't. Perhaps. A case of compelling story, wrong angle of attack.


  1. Its interesting that in the pictures you used to illustrate the movies i just noticed the gorgeous little girls.

  2. Re: Sarah's Key, it was not producers or financing, but a faithful adaptation of a best selling novel.

  3. JonBenet (Patricia) Ramsey, (circa December 24th 1996)November 4, 2011 at 4:01 PM

    This is a excellent colour background, you can see and read everything very clearly and its relatively easy on the mince pies.

  4. Anonymous -- I see, and thanks for pointing this out. But faithful or not, I found the Thomas parts served to take me out of the main story. I could have done without that angle.

  5. Unrelated but an interesting read -,9171,1818203,00.html


  6. Soiled -- great article. Tokuda's wife and daughter have no idea what he does? He's been doing it for 14 years!!! He's a brand! Heads thoroughly buried in sand, I'd say.

  7. The book has a wonderful concept/premise, but the plot is so predictable. And, just when you think the story is building, you find out the truth about Sarah's future. From that point on, I only finished it because my book club was discussing it the following week.

  8. UK -- Yes, UK, the premise is a good one. It just doesn't work played out because, as you say, it's so predictable.