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"Take Shelter masterful, w/ austere compassion. Elements of an M. Night mindbender but rooted in reality of U.S. political, emotional life," is what I tweeted as the credits rolled last night on Jeff Nichols' precise and moving picture premiering here at Sundance. (While watching the film I also thought of the photographs of Gregory Crewdson, Don DeLillo's White Noise and the films of Lodge Kerrigan (the IFP's Milton Tabbot told me it reminded him of Todd Haynes' Safe), but they didn't fit into 140 characters.) I am not always a fan of the Twitter instant reaction, but when I really like a film I want my positive voice to be immediately out there in the mix too.

While I waited for the Q&A to start, I scrolled down my Twitter timeline to see what others were tweeting. I read a lot of comments about the economy -- a source of simmering tension in Take Shelter -- and noticed a number of tweets with the #sotu hashtag.... Oh yeah, last night was Obama's State of the Union. I was going to watch it but I had forgotten about the time difference here in Utah.

"You take your eye off the ball one minute in this economy and you're screwed." That's not from the State of the Union but Take Shelter. It's the advice given to the movie's protagonist, Curtis, beautifully played by Michael Shannon, by his older brother (Ray McKinnon). Curtis works construction, tries his hardest to provide for his wife and child, but he's been haunted by nightmares and visions. They affect his work and family life, and he fears that he's succumbing to the curse of schizophrenia that runs in his family. Nichols segues in and out of these dreams with a cool hand, producing a genuine scream or two from the audience while not relying on so many horror films' leading music cues and jack-in-the-box effects.

But what's remarkable about Take Shelter is that while using a storyline reminiscent of films as far back as Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- and darkly elegant special effects from one of the companies that did Avatar -- Nichols doesn't do the usual trick of disregarding the film's early exploration of social and economic issues in favor of third-act supernaturalism. Our patchwork, private insurer health insurance system and the limits of COBRA coverage create just as much dread as the dark clouds gathering over the skies of Ohio. Indeed, Take Shelter is as nuanced a portrait of American working class life as you'll see in a U.S. fiction film. Without climbing onto a soapbox, Nichols dramatizes the issues facing a workforce that the President said last night must be retooled to face our global competitors. What's more, he subtly rejects the artificial dramas of our contemporary political dialogue in favor of something warmer and more humane. In Take Shelter, a peripheral character makes a reference to the World Trade Center's Building 7 - Exhibit A in theories put forth by the 9/11 Truth Movement. A questioner at the Q&A asked about the reference, noting that it was rare that such a topic would be mentioned in a mainstream movie. Nichols said that that scene was to show Curtis rejecting an easy path - his refusal to allow his nightmares to push him into the easy politics of conspiracy and blame.

"You take your eye off the ball one minute in this economy and you're screwed," Nichols quoted from his film during the Q&A, noting that he too as an independent filmmaker - one with a wife and new baby - faced the same stresses and anxieties as his lead character. Nichols said after his debut feature, Shotgun Stories, he worried about his next step, wanting to make sure he could build a career but also keep financially afloat. In articles over the last couple of years, particularly those by Esther Robinson, we at Filmmaker have covered the effect of the recession on our readers, so Nichols' words resonated with me. But the great strength of his movie is that as I read Obama's speech later in the evening, I thought not about independent filmmakers but Curtis, wondering where he and his family would fit in in a country the President said last night was "still the largest and most prosperous economy in the world."

Scott Macaulay

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In the blog, James Ponsoldt describes his evening with trolls and Lou Reed (pictured left), and we post our latest volunteer video, co-produced by Kenneth Cole.

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