It’s no secret that Jessica Chastain has had a breakout year. You probably saw her in THE HELP, perhaps saw her in THE DEBT or TREE OF LIFE, and should definitely head out to see her in TAKE SHELTER. It was one of the few films that went into the 2011 Sundance Film Festival with a distribution deal and between powerhouse performances Chastain and the film’s star Michael Shannon (REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, Boardwalk Empire), it’s easy to see why.
Jeff Nichols’ award-winning TAKE SHELTER takes place in rural Ohio, which is where I live, and involves a lot of rain, which describes the weather here as well. In fact, it’s been raining steadily in Southern Ohio since Sunday, so my ability to relate to the drama of precipitation was quite keen as I squirmed my way through this terrifying and ultimately moving film. As I’m smack in the middle of the same culture, where people actually go to church regularly and frequently needlepoint pillows, like young wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) does in the film, I really felt like I was there. Except that I don’t see what her husband Curtis (Michael Shannon) sees, which is much more than a steady drizzle: it’s apocalyptic storms with multiple twisters, raging birds in beautifully violent flight patterns and living room furniture that suddenly propels itself from the floor…
The greatest thing about THE DEBT, and this is no spoiler, is that it features older people acting out through violence. When’s the last time you saw that? Real ass-kicking and blood by the 50+ club? I loved David Edelstein’s review in New York Magazine, which doesn’t exactly talk about the violence enacted by retired-set, but he instead writes about the film’s somewhat maudlin properties and how they’re somehow forgiven. The second half of the film “turns into one howler after the other … yet it’s still gripping.”
Two new trailers were released this week for TEXAS KILLING FIELDS and THE WOMAN IN BLACK, and just as last week’s trailers seemed to fit into a theme (kids and babies), so does this week’s: men. Scared men, to be exact. To be even more exact, scared men running around trying to figure out what’s scaring them. First up is TEXAS KILLING FIELDS, which was directed by a chick! And yet this is not a chick flick, so already it’s got a lot going for it. It also stars some badass chicks, like Jessica Chastain and Chloe Moretz, but like I said before this week’s theme is men, because the trailer pretty much just shows two dudes, Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (who looks like the love child of Javier Bardem and Robert Downey Jr.). The only time a woman shows up it’s to help the dudes or scream her head off because some dude is trying to kill her. In fact, with all the dudes running and slamming car doors and chicks screaming for their lives and music crescendoing, all I managed to understand about this movie is that it’s got something to do with a scary field and an old, green Pontiac.
I saw THE TREE OF LIFE last night at the Sunshine Theatre in New York, and no surprise here – I loved it. As an urbanite at heart and decades-long Malick fan, I went in expecting to like it, and this epic look at life through lenses both broad and narrow did not disappoint. Here’s one revelation: if a twenty-something newbie director had paired dinosaurs with the intimate story of one Texas family, I very well may have balked. But I’ve been in a relationship with Malick for years now, and I trust him. I’d go anywhere with the guy, so cuts between sunshine-drenched babies draped in gauzy white to (next shot) an exploding star deep within space seem amazing, not pretentious. The scope of the project and its ability to move between things small and large feels truly groundbreaking. The one thing I was not expecting from the film was its specific meditation on parenting. In detailing small moments in the daily lives of the adoring-playful Mother and the adoring-stern Father (Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt), Malick paints a stark contrast between child-rearing approaches but is never overtly critical. As a friend said, it was the most patient and thorough examination of the small trials of parenting that she’s seen on the screen (and the day after with her own kids was more or less a misty-eyed affair), as the film ultimately asks us to cherish the living through all the small struggles and heart aches – especially if they happen to be our progeny.
The release of Terrence Malick’s latest film, THE TREE OF LIFE, has been accompanied by so many years of secrecy and anticipation that as both a critic and a Malick devotee it feels somewhere sacrilegious not to give into wholehearted praise and adoration. While THE TREE OF LIFE is nothing short of masterful, it is by no means a perfect film. New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane puts it well: “…no less perilous, however, is our assumption that merely because a movie…was pondered and kept secret for a lengthy period it must tower above its more precipitate peers.”