Back when I was still trying futilely to rebel against my parents, I took a trip with some friends that found us driving the entire stretch of Texas that leads through the desert into New Mexico. Beyond a small town called Junction right outside of San Antonio, the only sights for six hours are dirt and a big sky. Somehow, this stretch of land manages to be peaceful and desolate at the same time. It’s warm and dark, comforting and dangerous. The experience of watching Take reminded me of driving through that beautiful, forbidding landscape where thoughts are the only thing to keep you company. And there’s a lot of them.
Ana (Minnie Driver) is on her annual collision course with a man who has taken a lot from her. She is headed, as she does every year, to visit Saul (Jeremy Renner) in prison where he awaits the death penalty. She was once a mother, coping with the usual family dramatics of keeping a marriage together and fighting schools that didn’t want to deal with a slightly troubled child. Saul struggles with a gambling addiction that has landed him on the wrong side of debt. Ana and Saul’s paths cross only momentarily while he’s robbing a store, but the results are devastating, and now Ana makes her journey to see if she can forgive Saul and find peace before his final sentence is carried out.
Writer/Director Charles Oliver does a lot to break the rules of structure in Take. Normally, with a story like this, a filmmaker would begin with the store robbery and move on from there, using flashbacks to show how the characters wind their way toward that inevitable moment. Oliver avoids this route, and, instead, chooses to tell the audience enough through the context of Ana and Saul’s lives that reveals a terrible tragedy, a connection between the two people, but leaves room to surprise the audience when it all plays out. But that surprise is not the cheap trick or easy twist or ‘gotcha-moment’ that seems common now. By allowing the audience to use its imagination to fill in the blanks of how Saul destroys Ana’s life, the actual scene in which it takes place becomes shocking and illuminating in a meaningful way.
The vivid imagery is mostly rust and dirt and a lack of opportunities. The shots are usually beautifully done despite the drab subject matter. This is just one of the visual dichotomies in place that echo the two worlds – Ana and Saul, Past and Present. The cinematography is like that old relative telling you stories by the campfire who doesn’t speak very loudly, but dares you to lean in to listen.
The best thing in those shots is Minnie Driver. She’s proven time and time again that she has incredible acting presence, and she does it again by carrying a heavy story line mostly by herself. After all, even though Jeremy Renner finds a solid balance between empathy and disgust, the story really belongs to Ana. She manages to be strong and pathetic even while her life is falling apart. Her performance was undoubtedly my favorite things about Take.
Like any feature that begs you to think about it, there some things I found puzzling or unclear. Ana’s relationship with her husband Marty (David Denman) was odd at times, swinging from pleasantly in love to argumentative and standoffish. I suppose that’s how most marriages are, though, but it was never clear to me just why they were fighting, and it can probably be chalked up to Marty not being as fleshed out a character as Ana.
But the writing is strong, and the acting is definitely there to match it. As a whole, the film is heart-wrenching, but it’s done so quietly that you won’t even realize when the emotions start sneaking up. While watching, you’ll be completely absorbed, but when the credits role, you’ll realize that a tornado has silently worked its way through and destroyed everything without you noticing. The extent of the emotional damage won’t really set in until after.
This is a slow burn of a film. You’ll have to commit to seeing it, but the rewards for doing so are great. If you are the kind of passenger that constantly asks, “Are we there yet?” this film is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy a lonely journey with beautiful scenery, finding yourself out in the middle of the desert chasing the sunset, and taking in your surroundings, Take is going to have a lot to give you.