Category Archives: Michael Shannon

The Bikeriders-2024

The Bikeriders-2024

Director Jeff Nichols

Starring Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #1,431

Reviewed July 1, 2024

Grade: A-

The Bikeriders (2024) immediately informs the audience of the time and place the film will be told. A dry and dusty midwestern, USA between 1965-1973 is the window explored and the defiance of the characters drawn.

This period is the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, assassinations, Woodstock, and many other historical moments. Dangerous, the culture and people were changing and very rebellious.

Director Jeff Nichols, who also wrote the screenplay based on ‘The Bikeriders’ by Danny Lyon wonderfully presents a time capsule of a group of bikers who forged their subculture away from the uncertainty of the rest of the world.

After a chance encounter at a local biker bar, strong-willed Kathy (Jodie Comer) is drawn to handsome and mysterious Benny (Austin Butler), the newest member of the Midwestern motorcycle club, the Vandals led by the enigmatic Johnny (Tom Hardy).

Much like the country around it, the club changes with time, transforming from a basic gathering place for local outsiders into an underworld of violence, forcing Benny to choose between Kathy and his loyalty to the club.

The strongest parts of The Bikeriders are the beginning and end with portions in the middle section making it drag and lowering a potential ‘A’ rating to an ‘A-‘.

But the other sections are so rich with characterization and events that they usurp the dull parts.

Nichols, who has also directed Take Shelter (2011), Mud (2012), and Loving (2016) likes to focus on the decade of the 1960s in America with conflicted characters. He likes to work with Michael Shannon who has a small yet pivotal role as a man who ponders life.

We meet Benny in a bar where he sips a drink. He is hastily told by two local thugs to remove his biker jacket. After a bloody fight in the parking lot, we realize how much the biker club means to him and what it symbolizes.

It’s a club where the vermin, weirdos, undesirables, and those cast aside by society find a place and are cared for by one another. That is until the years pass and things change by meaner and less loyal bikers.

The symbolism resonates with all because time never stands still and good things always come to an end.

The Bikeriders is told from the perspective of Kathy through a series of interviews with her friend, Danny (Mike Faist). He is the real-life author of the book the film is based on.

Comer is outstanding in the lead female role. She is strong and resilient, attracted to the dangerous lifestyle and the bikers, but only has eyes for Benny and will not be taken advantage of.

She chronicles specific events like fights, death, and rape, in painful yet thoughtful detail inviting the audience into her dark world.

Butler and Hardy are also terrific. Arguably co-leads, Butler’s Benny is childless, freer than Hardy’s Johnny, a family man. Johnny sees Benny as the next leader of the Vipers but Benny wants none of that.

Both men are tortured by comparisons to the club and life outside the club. During a long homoerotic scene, Johnny and Benny are dangerously close to kissing as Johnny discloses the reasons why Benny should lead the club.

The scene is smoldering as the unspoken connection can be felt in raw form. Nichols doesn’t dare to make the film into anything LGBTQ+ related but the nuances and subtleties exist.

Besides the acting, the gritty environment oozes with richness. The soiled biker bars, sticky floors laden with blood, beer, and vomit, emit from the silver screen.

You can almost smell the environment.

The bad teeth, foul language, and tacky midwestern accents, all portray the loneliness of these characters and how they cling to the club for dear life.

Nichols and the author Lyon depict a fresh look into the world of motorcyclists and the culture they lived and died in for a brief time. The Bikeriders (2024) presents violence mixed with brotherhood and loyalty which is fascinating to watch.

Take Shelter-2011

Take Shelter-2011

Director Jeff Nichols

Starring Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain

Scott’s Review #1,150

Reviewed June 9, 2021

Grade: B+

Michael Shannon is a great actor. Appearing mostly in supporting roles and breaking out big time in 2008’s Revolutionary Road he gets the lead in Take Shelter (2011) and is more than up to the task of creating a great character.

The ambivalence and uncertainty his character feels are monumental to the enjoyment of the film.

It’s a slow burn and an unsatisfying payoff but I mean that with positive praise.

The plot is set in a small rural town in Ohio.

Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a working-class husband, father, and provider to his wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and young daughter Hannah. Curtis begins to have scary apocalyptic dreams which he keeps from his family.

He decides to build a storm shelter in his backyard which raises concerns for Samantha. His strange behavior creates a strain on his family. As he builds the shelter, Curtis is afraid of his dreams, or rather, afraid that they are a premonition and will come true.

Is he going crazy, or will his dreams become a devastating reality?

Curtis, Samantha, and the entire audience will ponder this note throughout the film.

An interesting add-on is that Hannah is deaf so the way her parents embrace and accept her disability is a nice nod to the inclusiveness of people with disabilities.

Take Shelter is delightful to revisit and discuss ten years following its release. In 2011, both Shannon and Chastain were up-and-coming stars and only barely on the cusp of A-list status so it’s fun to see them in an independent film that showcases their acting chops.

They would grow to be big stars and flourish their talents in many other roles so it’s fun to see them in early-career performances.

Shannon is careful not to outshine Chastain, but Curtis’s focal point is what is going on internally. His conflict is palpable and written all over his face in quiet scene after quiet scene after quiet scene of his gazing at the luminous skies.

He wonders what is coming next.

His dreams, hallucinations, and auditory experiences involving swarms of blackbirds are creepy and well-made on a small budget. A clue is when it is revealed that Curtis’s mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia at roughly the same age that Curtis is.

A drained Curtis seeks counseling but still cannot shake his feelings of impending doom. I felt completely empathetic to his plight and never saw Curtis as crazy or out of control. He possesses controlled restrain.

Director Jeff Nichols does an exceptional job of making the film largely quiet and peaceful with a gnawing and foreboding dread just as the expected apocalypse might come upon the lonely town.

Take Shelter is the debut by Nichols who followed up this gem with two other low-key but critically acclaimed films Mud (2012) and Loving (2016). He knows how to get to the core of his character’s deepest thoughts and feelings.

He wrote each of these works and received praise for fine writing.

The film is about the relationship between the characters and the possibility that Curtis is going insane. I’m not sure Take Shelter provides a neatly wrapped conclusion but boy is it an edge-of-your-seat thrill. And why does it need to?

Shannon’s best scene occurs at a Lions Club community event. With most of the town gathered in the hall for a delicious dinner of pot luck dishes things go bad when Curtis loses his temper and verbally berates the townspeople. He warns them that they are unprepared for the doom.

They look at him as if he belongs in a padded cell and Shannon’s explosion is frightening and frighteningly good.

As good as Shannon is, Chastain must not be dismissed. She barely holds it together as a woman with a special needs child and an unbalanced husband. When they lose their health insurance she nearly comes apart at the seams.

I love the ending because Nichols leaves the truth of reality a mystery to the audience. This may dissatisfy some but I thought it’s how Take Shelter should be. Unclear, just like the thoughts of its main character.

Take Shelter (2011) succeeds with a powerhouse performance by its star Michael Shannon, wonderful direction, and a refined imbalance.

The quiet and thoughtful cinema fan will endear the most to this film.

99 Homes-2015

99 Homes-2015

Director Ramin Bahrani

Starring Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon

Scott’s Review #633

Reviewed April 13, 2017

Grade: B+

99 Homes is a 2015 independent film containing an underlying theme of morality as its central message, bubbling to the surface throughout the run.

Our main hero is faced with a major dilemma.

Set in 2010 amid the dark economic housing crisis where thousands of families lost their homes to foreclosure, the film is depressing but turns uplifting towards the end.

Reminiscent of The Big Short (2015) and Inside Job (2010) in subject matter, we witness a wonderful performance by Andrew Garfield in the lead role, with a worthy supporting turn by Michael Shannon as an opportunist.

Director Ramin Bahrani immediately creates tension with a taut musical score that bombards the screen. We see a poor victim of foreclosure, having shot himself to avoid the humiliation of being evicted from his home, followed by the introduction of a powerful real-estate mogul, Rick Carver.

Carver has wisely capitalized on the slew of Florida working-class families, living well beyond their means and novice homeowners, booted from their homes thanks to adjustable mortgages that they cannot afford to pay.

Andrew Garfield plays Dennis Nash, a struggling construction worker, raising his young son and presumably supporting his mother (Laura Dern).

They are fated to be evicted even though they have tried to win an extension with the court- months behind in their mortgage payments. They feel victimized and are forced to move to a seedy motel that houses many others in the same circumstances.

Desperate for work, Dennis ironically ends up working for Rick and becomes encased in the dishonest world of real estate scheming- manipulating banking and government rules at the expense of homeowners down on their luck.

The main point is the exploitation of the “working man” at the expense of “the man” and Rick is an example of this beast. Dennis represents the goodness of humanity as he wrestles with the moral repercussions of evicting families since he has met with similar circumstances.

Is the money worth the pain and the hardship he causes people? How is it Rick has no morals, but Dennis does? Will Dennis choose money and lose himself in the process? What would the viewer do?

Despite the morality questions, the film does play like a slick thriller, with a few slight contrivances and the “wrapped up in a neat bow” style ending.

This slightly makes the film lose its luster at times. It is implied that it ends happily for Dennis and that Rick gets his “just desserts”, but what about the characters kicked out of their homes?

Sadly, as in real life, they are largely forgotten by the end and play as footnotes in a larger story. Some follow-up as to what happens to them might have been nice.

99 Homes is a thinking man’s film and will undoubtedly leave the viewer asking what he or she would do in many situations that Dennis faces.

The emotions ooze from the face of Andrew Garfield as Bahrani uses many close-ups and enough cannot be said for Garfield’s bravura performance.

In one heart-wrenching scene, he is forced to evict a man and his wife and children from their home, the man is reduced to tears, comforted by his wife-Dennis is pained.

In another, an elderly man with nowhere to go is evicted, and defeated by the side of the road.

These scenes may have played as overwrought, but Garfield convincingly brings honesty and raw emotion to the work.

Laura Dern is good in her role as a young mother, Lynn,  to Garfield’s Dennis and I am perplexed why she was cast- she barely seems old enough to play convincingly as his Mom, but she does pull it off.

However, I could not help but desire more meat from this Oscar-nominated Actress- sure there is one great scene when Lynn realizes the extent of Dennis’s involvement with Rick, but I wanted more.

Still, the acting all around in this film is superb.

What left me so bothered by 99 Homes (2015) is that situations just like the ones that played out in the film are examples of countless real-life occurrences people experienced due to greed, dishonesty, and uncaring fellow human beings and that is a sad realization.

Director, Bharani, surrounded by a stellar cast, brings this realism to the big screen in raw, honest, storytelling.

Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best Supporting Male-Michael Shannon

Revolutionary Road-2008

Revolutionary Road-2008

Director Sam Mendes

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet

Scott’s Review #598

Reviewed January 10, 2017

Grade: A

Revolutionary Road (2008) is an outstanding film- what superior, human, raw acting by stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

The duo reunites in film over ten years after the monstrous success of Titanic (1997).

The trailers might lead one to believe that this film is a romantic comedy or some type of love story- it is a love story, but a very real, dark one.

Both characters are flawed.

Set in affluent New England, somewhere in Connecticut to be precise, April and Frank seemingly have it all. He is a successful doctor, and she is the perfect housewife, they live a happy existence free of problems- or do they?

Slowly, the audience sees their lives spin out of control and varying emotions between the pair emerge to the surface.

Great supporting turns by Kathy Bates and Michael Shannon as characters presenting roadblocks to April and Frank’s happiness.

If you are looking for a film with true, gritty, layered acting, this is it. Revolutionary Road (2008) is a much more complex film than the previews would allow you to think.

It shows the depth of DiCaprio’s and Winslet’s acting ability. Some might feel it is a bit slow-moving, but the payoff is worth it.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Michael Shannon, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design