Michael Shannon’s Most Underrated Role Is in This Apocalyptic Thriller


The Big Picture

  • Shannon’s reserved method adds visceral intensity to Curtis’ harrowing visions of apocalypse in
    Take Shelter
  • The actor’s performance portrays a man on the brink of insanity, called back by his wife and daughter in a heart-wrenching scene.
  • Despite a calm conclusion, the film offers a twist that leaves viewers on edge, solidifying Shannon’s portrayal of Curtis’ mental turmoil.

Michael Shannon is an actor who can shine in both leading and supporting roles. He commanded the screen front and center in movies and shows such as The Shape of Water, Waco, and George & Tammy. He stood out in limited roles against impressive ensembles in titles like Nocturnal Animals, Knives Out, and Revolution Road. He has garnered the recognition he deserves, earning two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor throughout his varied career. However, there is one leading role of his that should be talked about more. His turn in 2011’s Take Shelter may not be widely considered his greatest performance but it is the best embodiment of all the expressive subtlety he brings to a project.

Shannon has a unique combination of a daunting physical presence standing at six feet and three inches with a quiet intensity that shows itself through his distinct facial expressions and soft-spoken manner. Maybe it’s the way he furrows his pronounced brow and the high, sculpted cheekbones, but it’s a singular quality. That’s why we love him in this movie about a man who wants nothing more than a simple life in a small Ohio town who slowly descends into madness over a vision of an approaching apocalypse that turns his simple life upside down.

Take Shelter (2011)

Plagued by a series of apocalyptic visions, a young husband and father questions whether to shelter his family from a coming storm, or from himself.

Release Date
September 30, 2011

Jeff Nichols


Main Genre

Jeff Nichols

Winner Grande Prize Critics Week Cannes.

Who Does Michael Shannon Play in ‘Take Shelter’?

Not much happens in the tiny little hamlet of LaGrange, Ohio where Curtis and Samantha LaForche (Jessica Chastain) live with their little girl, Nat (Katy Mixon). Nat has a hearing impediment and requires several trips to an ear specialist to make sure she isn’t getting worse and discuss the possibilities of a cochlear implant. Hence, the insurance that Curtis has as a part of his job with a local foundation construction and repair company is probably the most important part of the package he receives. Shannon’s Curtis is soft-spoken and courteous. He loves his wife and daughter and wants nothing more than to provide for and take care of them, so when he starts to experience crippling night terrors and visions of strange and cataclysmic events involving an upcoming storm, he is rightfully concerned. His mother lives in an assisted living facility and suffers from severe paranoid schizophrenia and Curtis knows he has a genetic predisposition to mental illness. To further his concern, his mother was institutionalized in her mid-thirties, the same age as Curtis when the visions started to become particularly debilitating.

Is Shannon’s Curtis Losing His Mind or Having Premonitions?

Writer-director Jeff Nichols does a beautiful job of keeping the film at a steady tempo while also impressing an urgency on the audience through the troubled mind of Curtis, and Shannon’s reserved method makes his horrifying visions that much more visceral. Even as it appears that he is losing his mind, Shannon is quiet and bottles his emotions inside, not wanting to worry Samantha and Nat. So when he takes a backhoe from work and starts to build an underground storm shelter in his backyard, it makes you wonder if he is losing his grip on reality or actually having real premonitions of a storm that will wipe the small Midwestern town off the map.


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Samantha believes it is the former, and is very patient with Curtis as he struggles with the idea that he may be succumbing to schizophrenia. She suggests counseling and medication to quell his fears and allow him to catch his breath and hopefully stabilize. But after Curtis gets fired for borrowing the backhoe from work without permission and then makes a scene at a community potluck dinner — a scene that makes it difficult to believe Shannon wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for this performancewhen he flips a picnic table and barks out like a madman at everyone in the small gymnasium releasing all the pent-up fear and anger he’s been suppressing. Samantha gently holds him and ushers him out of the gym, but later draws a line in the sand and demands he get help if he wants to keep his family.

Michael Shannon’s Performance Makes ‘Take Shelter’s Ending Heartwrenching

Just when it seems as if Curtis is in the midst of a nervous breakdown, the skies start to darken and collect in a threatening position over the town. A storm is coming, and Nichols deftly bobs and weaves with his narrative as it looks like Curtis may have been right all along. Fortunately, as the winds begin to howl and the rain begins to fall, the LaForche family is equipped with Cutis’ underground bunker and gas masks that he bought for a full-blown apocalypse. So down they go, barring the door behind them as a storm rages over the eerie solitude of the small doomsday bunker. The three sit with their gas masks on until they no longer hear the noise from above. Samantha and Nat remove their masks, but Curtis isn’t convinced the air is safe to breathe. Slowly, the weary and tormented husband and father removes his mask. Samantha demands that he open the door, but what she’s really begging of her husband is for him to stop the madness and realize that everything is still standing outside. Shannon’s ability to pull the anguish and despair out of every second that he refuses Samantha’s demands is heart-wrenching. His portrayal of a man at the precipice of insanity being called off the ledge by his loving wife and daughter is the boiling point of the calculated slow burn of the film’s first half.

‘Take Shelter’ Ends With One Last Twist

Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain in Take Shelter
Image Via Sony

After several minutes of begging from Samantha, Curtis opens the storm doors to discover that a storm has indeed passed through but did little more than blow over some lawn furniture. Shannon is so believable when he emerges with a combination of bewilderment and relief. The film jumps ahead a few months to find Curtis playing with Nat at the beach as the family has recovered and is at a point where they have taken a vacation to the shorelines of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It appears that Curtis is in a good place emotionally as he is building sand castles with Nat.

But Nichols has one last twist in mind when the two notice the wind picking up, and Nat looks off in the distance. Curtis turns around as the wind continues to build. Samantha comes to the nearby sliding glass door and all three are in awe at something looming on the horizon. It’s a brilliant curveball by Nichols as he leaves the viewer looking at the three with their jaws dropped as they watch a terrifying line of enormous, dark, and ominous storm clouds lining up over the ocean. Samantha nods at Curtis as if to say, “You were right all along.” Curtis returns a knowing nod as he scoops up Nat and the family takes shelter in the beach house just before a fade to black and the credits roll.

Take Shelter is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.

Watch on Hulu


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