Over a career spanning twenty years, Michael Shannon has evolved from television bit player to an astonishing film talent. Yet, even with an Oscar nomination for his turn in Revolutionary Road, and a Screen Actors Guild award as part of the ensemble cast for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, one of Shannon’s most memorable roles on his diverse resume came in 2007, in Jeff Nichols’ family drama Shotgun Stories. In the 2011 Cannes Film Festival Critics Week grand prize winning Take Shelter, the actor and writer / director reunite for the latter’s sophomore effort, delving into the many mysterious layers of the fractured mind. As Curtis LaForche, an average Ohio family man plagued by apocalyptic nightmares, Shannon ably imbues every second of Nichols’ finessed film with an air of psychological and emotional foreboding, augmenting the filmmaker’s vivid vision. As we watch the character’s compulsion to prepare – both literally and figuratively – for an impending inclement weather event that only he can see coming, we bear witness to a harrowing and heartbreaking rendering of the increasing physical manifestations of his mental issues. Taking a meaningful as well as metaphorical approach, the film paints a powerful portrait of the stress of contemporary society, with pitch-perfect performances from Shannon and his co-star Jessica Chastian (The Tree Of Life) adding an extra layer of resonance.
Amongst the many difficulties that accompany screen adaptations of classic literary works is the overwhelming burden of historical comparisons. When novels have beguiled the public and made their way to cinema and television several times over, it often becomes impossible to judge new interpretations on their own merits, with the shadow of previous versions lingering in the mind. Whilst Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre has made its way to the recorded medium on numerous occasions – including features with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, and William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg, and television offerings with George C. Scott and Susannah York, and Ciarán Hinds and Samantha Morton – Cary Joji Fukunaga’s cinematic incarnation stands out as a masterful, modern rendering of the iconic and influential story. Starring The Kids Are All Right’s Mia Wasikowska as the titular character and X-Men: First Class’ Michael Fassbender as Rochester, the Sin Nombre director and Tamara Drewe screenwriter Moira Buffini remain faithful to the source material whilst crafting a captivating contemporary iteration. Both beautiful and bleak as well as controlled and compelling, the stylish and sparse feature champions Brontë’s feminist and social commentary, whilst allowing the thematic conflicts of passion, position, identity and acceptance to filter through. An emotionally engaging and aesthetically impressive effort heightened by poignant portrayals (including the always exceptional Fassbender), Jane Eyre is an impressive film in its own right, as well as an expressive adaptation.