by Michael Koresky (May 23, 2007)

Even during the heyday of the American paranoia thriller, there was never a performance quite like the one given by Michael Shannon in William Friedkin’s take-no-prisoners adaptation of Tracy Letts’s off-Broadway play about fear and loathing in an Oklahoma motel room. As Peter Evans, the blandly named, seemingly innocuous drifter who appears one evening at the doorstep of Agnes White (Ashley Judd), a battered wife terrified of her ex-con husband’s return, Shannon has either officially arrived onscreen or carved out a memorable cult niche. It was a sly move on Friedkin’s part to have Shannon reprise his stage role; largely unknown to movie audiences, Shannon makes for a persuasive blank slate, an unknown entity. The plot trajectory of “Bug,” though originating from Agnes’s point of view, relies upon the slow peeling away at Peter’s psychosis, and it functions best when you don’t know where it, or Peter, or Shannon, is going. Eyes set so widely apart he looks like a praying mantis, the actor moves gradually and unrelentingly from possible savior to frenetic phantasm; and as he strips himself down, he achieves something like grace – his performance feels like an authentic inner howl, a splattering of soul, at once unwieldy and intimidatingly in control.

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