Two magnificent thrillers starring Michael Shannon as a man who may or may not be losing his mind.To say that Michael Shannon is one of the most talented actors working today is not to be taken lightly. After all, this is the age of Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy, Ryan Gosling, George Clooney among others. Shannon succeeds in showing strong emotional extremes with such subtlety that you lose yourself to his character, whichever movie you're watching. His eyes have a glaring intensity. He seems like the kind of guy who, if he wasn't an actor, would be a very good serial killer. Both require a passion and determination seeming unmatched in our culture. An both are on display in our films tonight.
Bug, directed by William Friedkin and based on the play by Tracy Letts, is a claustrophobic descent into schizophrenia, or a revelation of extreme danger. Starring Ashley Judd as Agnes, a small-town girl who could never quite escape the life the seemed destined for her. Then one day Peter(Shannon) comes into her life. An ex-military man with some obvious baggage, Agnes invites him to stay with her and finds a strange connection to him. Then he starts spotting the "bugs". First in the bed, and then well...
Things go from bad to worse as Agnes begins seeing the bugs herself. They "re-arrange" some things in the apartment. It escalates quickly, to say the least.
Bug is one of the best examples of walking the line of sanity and madness since the seventies. Is government intrigue and military meddling at play. Or is insanity really that contagious?
Take Shelter features the re-teaming of writer/director Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon whose previous work together was the wonderful Shotgun Stories. Again it features Shannon as the protagonist, Curtis, a man who begins having visions of a violent storm headed their way, or is simply losing his mind. Also similar is the pacing of the film and the slowly pulled string of tension among both the characters and the audience.
Unlike most "are they sane or insane" movies, Take Shelter approaches the material with intelligence. Curtis knows he has a family history of schizophrenia and reaches out to doctors who, unfortunately, aren't of the caliber necessary for Curtis' problems. He tries all the options but nightmares of being attacked by the family dog, a shadow figure always lurking, and visions of strange bird patterns will not go away. Soon enough they take hold and Curtis begins work on a storm shelter, using money he doesn't have. Not only that, but his daughter is deaf and his wife had been saving for a cochlear implant. This could ruin everything.
Curtis has a good life. A steady job, a beautiful family, and the idea of losing them eats at his soul. That's where the film really finds it's voice. His apparent madness is simply to keep his family safe from what he fears is an impending apocalypse. It's love that is driving is seemingly deranged activities, and there's something to that. It's meaningful.
The ending has received much talk and I don't intend to spoil it here. You either like it or you don't. I thought it quite good and appropriate for the film based on the prior two hours leading up to it. Is sanity hereditary? Can love drive us mad? Or is this really the prelude to the end of the world? See what I did there...