Saturday, February 4, 2012

Short Take: "Take Shelter", "Margin Call" and "Texas Killing Fields"

In Take Shelter, Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a man who is having constant apocalyptic visions, and can you blame him? With the world going through one of its most severe cases of economic, cultural and sociological
crises, he would need to be heavily sedated to be optimistic. This is the film's magic, how writer/director Jeff Nichols transports all these feelings of impending doom and crafts with them, not a preposterous ode to negativity but an intelligent psychological portrait about the way in which our subconscious manifests its fears.
The film isn't clever because we wonder whether Curtis' visions are signs of insanity or actual premonitions, but because of the way in which Shannon taps onto the fear of losing one's mind when trying to remain a responsible member of society. The film is almost socialist in the way it so fixates itself on work, as Curtis builds a shelter to protect his family (the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain plays his wife and is nothing short of perfect). Nichols crafts a workman symbolism as we see, construction worker, Curtis dig deep down into the ground to escape from a sky that for the first time seems to be noticing him. He's trying to escape doom by working harder. Now how's that for a pitch perfect snapshot of our times?  

Margin Call deals with the corruption that goes behind the stock market and emphasizes on the "thrills" that make Wall Street such an adored object of Hollywood's attention. Why not make a comedy about  this for once? The film doesn't really contribute anything new to the genre with Penn Badgley and Zachary Quinto playing the wide eyed virgins willing to sell their soul to get a piece of the pie and Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons playing larger-than-life monsters who control everything with their ruthlessness and suspenders. The ensemble is quite effective (despite having the likes of Simon Baker and Demi Moore in its ranks) but the film's lack of actual excitement makes it endlessly dull.

Oy, Sam Worthington really needs blue aliens or Keira Knightley to turn in semi-decent performances, playing a violent detective in Texas Killing Fields does him no favors, but then again the material does none of the actors any favor (although Jessica Chastain somehow manages to deliver the goods). This serial killer flick had all the makings of a B-gore fest, but everything is so overdone that its intention to be some sort of feminist essay bites in the back by becoming endlessly stereotypical and cliché. The film was directed by Michael Mann's daughter and one would wish she had inherited some of her dad's stylish eye for crime movies.

Grades
Take Shelter ***
Margin Call **
Texas Killing Fields *

3 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Oscar nomination or no, I have no interest in Margin Call, which is a bit unfair because it's not as if I've watched a trailer, or gotten anything more than fleeting plot descriptions, but I feel nothing.

Anyhow, that final line on Take Shelter is quite provoking, it's making me reassess some of the film's themes. It's so thematically, rich, though which is the most impressive thing that Nichols' does for me, especially considering how straightforward and bsic the main story seems.

Candice Frederick said...

while i didn't think it was perfect, i rather liked Texas killing fields. i thought it was one of the better performances i've seen from sam too. margin call wasn't a new concept, but i think it captured the soul of wall street, whcih isn't something we see often.

Luke said...

Definitely with you on Margin Call. Can we request that Kevin Spacey go back to more nuanced roles sometime soon? The whole over-the-top psycho thing can only be revisited so many times before we start to question his double Oscar win...