In the beautiful plains of the Ohio, suddenly the even-tempered husband and father, Curtis (Michael Shannon, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), begins having nightmares. Slowly they start affecting his everyday life including his family and his work. Is he going crazy? What is the cause? Writer/director Jeff Nichols tackles all the circumstances surrounding this mysterious question with a slow build and a breathtaking backdrop.
As Curtis, Michael Shannon is an everyman that does not understand what is happening to him. I really appreciated and enjoyed the progression of a man who thinks he might be going crazy. So often mental health is portrayed as obvious and even dangerous. Here, it’s never quite clear if Curtis is crazy, but if he is, I can completely imagine that this is how it would happen.
What griped me the most was how Curtis’ nightmares were actually exposing his relationships with other people. He’s a man who loves his family, yet cannot even bring himself to share his affliction with his own wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life). He’s a crew chief with his best friend, Dewart (Shea Whigham, The Lincoln Lawyer), yet can’t bring himself to share anything with him either. Curtis is alone and isolated, yet surrounded by those who love him.
Other aspects of the film worth noting are the incredible scenery and naturalistic sounds. The film is shot in rural Ohio, and has a very midwestern feel. I grew up where tornadoes and storm shelters are commonplace, and this felt very authentic and even nostalgic. The film focuses not only on the story, but the experience of watching a storm from a distance or standing outside in the rain.
Michael Shannon’s performance was incredibly emotional but without many words. His body language and actions spoke loud and stood out in every scene. Jessica Chastain, as his wife, was empathetic and heart-breaking. Samantha doesn’t know what’s happening to her husband and she also doesn’t know what to do about it. She thinks they are in the marriage 50/50, but then she realizes that he’s not sharing everything with her and that scares her more than his nightmares ever could.
SPOILER ALERT – I didn’t not like the ending. I would have a much higher opinion of the film if it would have ended about 15 minutes before it did. I was completely for the idea of Curtis having a mental illness and this being a movie on how it happened to this struggling family. END SPOILER
The film deserves an audience, if not for the portrayal of a man struggling with his sanity. The slow and steady pace is deliberate and will probably bore some people. Seeing this film on a big screen is breath-taking and will no doubt lose some of it’s effectiveness when seen at home.
Rating: Beautifully shot and a great performance by Michael Shannon, but a flawed ending. 6/10
Opens September 30th in NY and LA, wide in October 2011