Thursday, March 4, 2010

SHUTTER ISLAND- Not Too Many Shudders, But Creepy

Review..... Shutter Island, adapted for the screen from Dennis Lehane's novel of the same name by Lehane and Laeta Kalogridis is probably the darkest movie director Martin Scorsese has made since his reworking of Cape Fear. While watching I felt the same eeriness as during Silence of the Lambs, probably because of the action taking place at a mental hospital for the criminally insane located on an island in the outer reaches of Boston Harbor....not to mention the presence of Ted Levine in SHUTTER ISLAND; Levine played the serial killer "Buffalo Bill" in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

I've read in early reviews that the subject matter, a Gothic "old dark house" style mystery, was kind of unique territory for Scorsese- Stanley Kubrick directing Stephen King's THE SHINING comes to mind for taking that turn in his career as well. But while Scorsese seems to be at his best in docu-drama styled crime stories- THE DEPARTED, GANGS OF NEW YORK, CASINO, and the great GOODFELLAS- he did a fine job in creating a suspense picture that, to be honest, wasn't all that scary; there were horrific parts in it, as we see in several very violent murders told in flashback as well as some scenes recounting the horror of World War II. But the operative word to describe SHUTTER ISLAND was creepy....there was the feeling of doom and foreboding in it from the beginning, but no feeling of terror, at least for me.

As with every other review of the film, you can only tell so much of the story before you get into spoiler territory. Its 1954; US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Rufalo) arrive on the prison-like institution for the criminally insane Ashecliff Hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a woman sent to Ashcliffe for killing her three kids. Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the psychiatrist in charge of the facility, tells the marshalls that Solando has appeared to have vanished into thin air, and that the doctor who runs her group therapy sessions has left for vacation. Solando has also left behind a cryptic note, leading Daniels to believe there was an additional patient on the island, one who does not show up on the records.

Daniels has his own demons....he is haunted by images of the death camps in Hitler's Germany, and of the death of his wife in a fire started by an arsonist. Daniels struggles to find leads regarding the missing Solando, but shutting out his new partner, Chuck, in the process, telling him information on a "need to know" basis. After a hurricane makes it impossible for the two marshalls to leave Shutter Island, Daniels discloses the real reason he is at Shutter Island...and the investigation takes them into the part of the hospital where the worst of the criminally insane are kept, all murderers who even the other patients are afraid of.

And I have to stop it right here....because to tell you anymore would lead to multiple spoilers for each of the multiple twists and turns.

Martin Scorsese is my favorite director; everytime GOODFELLAS or CASINO is on, I'm watching it....I loved GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, THE DEPARTED, and THE AVIATOR. The best way to describe a Scorsese film, in my eyes, is to indulge it like a sumptuous Italian feast....there is so much to enjoy during the experience of one of Scorsese's movies. Like a great chef, he gets the right blend of characters, a rich and memorable script, a pinch of great music, and terrific atmosphere.

But even the greatest chefs make some dishes better than others...I left SHUTTER ISLAND liking it alot, but not loving it. I liked the twists and turns in the plot...even though I could hear some audience members saying to each other. "I don't get it". I guess modern audiences are so conditioned to horrible deaths on the screen that it becomes increasingly hard to frighten them. And I think Scorsese tried a bit too hard to work that angle, with mixed results.

To be honest, I was more horrified by the way Nicky and Dominic were dispatched with baseball bats in CASINO than by anything I saw in SHUTTER ISLAND; in SHUTTER ISLAND once you saw the pieces falling into place, you knew what was coming next. You might be saddened or troubled by the truth that's eventually exposed, but as an audience member you are already prepared; you know its coming.

Is SHUTTER ISLAND worth seeing? Without a doubt.

Is this vintage Scorsese? That I do doubt.

For more information see the official Shutter Island website.


Linda M said...

I love Marty's work, and I have to check this out, on your recommendation.

It doesn't seem like horror is his kind of genre, but I want to see his take on it.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Linda- it definitely has "Sixth Sense" type twists- that's right, plural.

But when you leave the theater you'll think about what you have just seen and you'll say to yourself "all the clues were there".

Marty's resume has raised the bar so high you expect every one of his films to be a classic....and I don't think SHUTTER ISLAND is in that category. But its still better than 90% of the stuff that movie makers are throwing out to the public to quench their thirst for more exploding cars and ear splitting noise. There's a real story in SHUTTER ISLAND with real compelling characters...a good script and actors who can act; what a concept!

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