Monday, 22 August 2011

Michael Shannon.

b. August 7th, 1974
When I started this blog, I wanted to focus on actors and actresses many people probably recognise, but whose name you might not necessarily know, and I decided a few months back that I’d like to do a post about Michael Shannon, because I think he’s just grand. I feel like right now he’s on that cusp though, perhaps not of becoming a huge star, but definitely of being a character actor who is a little more than “that guy who was in that other thing”, someone who gets third billing in the occasional summer action flick, and first billing in indie dramas, like a Giovanni Ribisi or Dermot Mulroney.
I first remember noticing Shannon in the late, great Sidney Lumet’s 2007 film Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. (Possible Spoiler Warning) He plays the brother-in-law of a crook who died in a failed heist orchestrated by Ethan Hawke and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and generally has to lounge about and be threatening to Hawke. Man, that doesn’t really seem like an acting task you’d have to put much effort into, but Shannon almost walks away with the entire film, which in a cast of fairly strong hitters is no mean feat. My boyfriend and I were pausing the dvd after each scene he was in to exclaim “who is this guy?” and “We have to have seen him in something before, there is no way someone can be this good, this distinctive and strange, and not have showed up being awesome in something else.”
Checking ye olde IMDB confirmed that I had indeed seen him being awesome in something else- Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories, a deceptively low-key independent tragedy of Shakespearian proportions about two families of half-brothers locked in a blood feud following the death of their father. Shannon plays the eldest brother with a mixture of quiet dignity and barely repressed rage. He also has apparently been in a million and one HUGE movies which completely passed me by – Revolutionary Road, Pearl Harbour, Vanilla Sky. He’s set to play General Zod in the next Superman movie.
So, when Take Shelter, the next film directed by Nichols, and also starring Michael Shannon, came around, I was pretty psyched to see it. It was during the film festival in Wellington, I had my ticket for 9pm on a Friday night (nerd!), front row centre, and oh my I was not prepared for this film, or this performance. Shannon plays a loving father and husband, with a good blue-collar job in Ohio, who starts having violent nightmares, leading to paranoid delusions, leading to both trying to seek psychiatric care and to rapidly build a storm shelter in his back yard. Like in Shotgun Stories, Shannon plays a man who loves his family and is trying to do best by them, but in this case that requires asking for their help, and that’s a painfully difficult thing. There were moments in this film where I wasn’t just crying, I was shaking from feeling this character’s stress and fear so acutely. Shannon’s done his research – I was especially impressed by how, when he finally does tell his wife what is happening for him, his voice comes out thick and slurred, and his mouth moves like he’s having trouble forming the words. Times I’ve been in bad, bad depressions, I remember that happening, though I’d mostly forgotten it until I saw him do it. The film lags a little in the final five minutes, but that doesn’t take away much. I can’t wait for the dvd so I can watch it again, and I can’t wait to see Shannon in more.    


  1. This is such a great post! I haven't seen any of these films but I really want to now! You're posts are annoyingly good at doing that, cause I haven't found a decent video store here and so its hart to find 'em! You bastard.

    no, I can't even jokingly end a comment to you that way. Love you!

  2. YES! Thank you for doing a write-up on him! Love this guy! He has a striking look about him which his backs up with great acting skills.

    Take Shelter is crushing, but in a refreshing way. When he breaks down in the cafeteria? Heart-breaking. The ending? Amazing!

    Wonderful take on mental illness and even thought the ending seems impossible, you can relate to that high after such a long low. If that makes sense...

    Keep writing!