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February 21, 2010

Shutter Island

2010, Dir. by Martin Scorsese.

I debated with myself thoroughly as to whether or not I should post a review of Shutter Island here. A 140 minute film from Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese that features a list of major Hollywood stars (I count six former Oscar nominees in the cast) generally isn't a Midnight or Cult movie. In the end, I decided I would feature the film because of a) its horror movie stylings (though I'd argue that the film is not, in fact, a horror movie) and b) the fact that it's really, really, ridiculously good.

From the moment Shutter Island begins, we are certain that something's rotten in the state of Denmark. As our lead character, a U.S. Marshall played by Leonardo Dicaprio, and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) descend upon the mysterious titular island, where an asylum for the criminally insane is housed. As the musical score hammers down on the deep end of the scale, we're informed of the rocky cliffs that surround the estate, and the next conversation informs us of the layout, complete with an old civil war fort and an abandoned lighthouse. By the time the marshalls get inside and a storm begins to brew outside, it's pretty clear that some sort of deadly game has been set.

That game is one of cat and mouse, but which is the cat and which is the mouse? As we learn more about the doctors in charge of the island, played by veteran heavyweights Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow (who I believe has possibly had the greatest career of any actor ever), we're not sure who's leading who in the investigation of a missing patient who "vanished through the walls". And as the Marshall digs deeper into the crevices of the island, encountering a string of unique characters who each have a different piece of the puzzle, things become more and more muddled.

Expertly crafted by Scorsese, Shutter Island is a thriller that is among the most engrossing I've ever seen. Once that mood of ominous dread is set in the opening moments, the film never relents. Dicaprio dives into the role of investigator with vigor, and the cast around him does a fantastic job of adding to his character's mental quandary. Most effective are Jackie Earle Haley as a dangerous inmate, Emily Mortimer as the missing girl, and Ted Levine (aka Buffalo Bill!) as the Warden, each of whom provide an assist in key scenes.

Among the mystery of Shutter Island are several haunting dream sequences, in which Dicaprio encounters his late wife (played by Michelle Williams), who was killed in an accident years earlier. These sequences are filmed beautifully by Scorsese and director of photography Robert Richardson, featuring a rich color palette and some wonderful visual effects. These dreams also play off of the lead's past traumas with his wife's passing and his WWII service, and provide a lot of food for mental thought. As the movie unfolds in the final reels, it gets a little tongue-tied yet still manages to leave a few loose ends that leave the viewer wondering. While things seem to come to an implausible ending, the psychological ramifications of the film seem all too real.

In fact, I think Shutter Island is strongest when it's considering the pulse of society in the post-WWII years. Dicaprio's character is not only a war veteran, but one of the soldiers who encountered a German concentration camp, and the horrors of what he saw are relayed vividly during the film. Other characters discuss their fears of the changing world, including everything from television boxes in which people appear and talk at you to hydrogen bombs that can destroy entire cities and the cold war. Meanwhile, the doctors speak of the changing culture of psychotherapy and how even these renowned doctors don't agree on how to proceed with the new breed of violent psychotic. The story, from author Dennis Lehane and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, seems to place all of society's uncertainty regarding the new world into Dicaprio's character and the asylum's doctors - and they carry the weight of the world into the film with vigor.

As Shutter Island wraps up with an ambiguous final line and a suggestive lingering shot, the film's intrigue is still thick as can be. It's perhaps the most psychologically enthralling story I've seen since Hitchcock's Vertigo or Kubrick's The Shining, and a triumphant achievement by all involved. I can't wait to check out Shutter Island again and try to piece together more of the film's mysteries, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a chilling piece of drama as a must-see cinema event.

1 comment:

sheila king said...

brilliant film....seriously underrated and will eventually get it's due. have to have the dvd.