Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shutter Island

Who doesn’t love the Land of Scorsese? The man knows more about the art of cinema than any living American filmmaker. But I can’t let that cloud my judgment. The fact that two of his masterpieces are in my top five films of all time doesn’t necessarily mean everything Marty puts out is solid gold. Such is the case here.

So… you get a washed up, overworked, emotional wreck of a Boston cop Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new, amiable partner (Mark Ruffalo). They’ve been sent to Shutter Island, which houses a notorious asylum for the criminally insane. A dangerous female “patient” has gone missing; she “evaporates right through the walls,” as the steadfast director of the institution (played with reliable brilliance by Ben Kingsely) tells us.

But that’s not the movie, of course. Once on the island, weird shit starts to happen. Creepy inmates give cold, menacing stares. Teddy starts hallucinating (but why?) A violently convenient storm blankets the island. The power goes out. Prisoners roam around. You get it.

Flashbacks (too many of them) reveal a complicated backstory for Teddy. Not only was he a courageous, albeit murderous, soldier who liberated Nazi death camps, but he also lost his wife in a fire. It doesn’t take long for the viewer to lose patience, asking “so what?” aloud.

Look, here’s the thing. Shutter Island is way more Cape Fear than GoodFellas. It has everything you want in a Scorsese film: flashy cinematography, gripping editing, a pacing score, and so on. But the story just lacks. I’ll admit it: one of the biggest disadvantages of being a massive film fanatic is that it takes a lot to really surprise me. So it’s no exaggeration when I say I called the climax to this movie pretty early on.

As he’s proved with his recent string of Scorsese films, DiCaprio excels here (although for my money his work in The Departed still reigns supreme). As is the case in all Scorsese films, the supporting cast propels the picture, making it essential viewing. In addition to Ruffalo and Kingsely, we’re given great turns by a cold Max von Sydow (Jesus, how old is this guy?), Elias Koteas, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson, and the way-too-underrated Emily Mortimer (Transsiberian, Redbelt, Lars and the Real Girl), who may very well have the best scene in the film as a found prisoner.

Bottom line: Shutter Island can appeal to a lot of people. Those looking for a high shock-factor adult thriller should be set. But any real diehard Scorsese fan may feel something is missing, (as I did with Gangs of New York and The Aviator). But it’s a good flick. Better than any other shit out there. B+

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