"Shutter Island": Movie Review (2010)

2/26/2010 Posted by Admin

“Shutter Island”

Movie Review

Directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Laeta Kalogridis, 138 minutes, rated R.

By Christopher Smith

The new Martin Scorsese film, “Shutter Island,” is designed to be a head trip. It’s a movie driven almost completely by a plot that, should it be revealed here, would ruin the experience of seeing the film for those who have yet to see it.

At best, the characters are thin--intentionally so. They are stereotypes. Scorsese puts his audience into their lives and asks us to fish out clues from the plot that will help to flesh out the people we see onscreen. Who are they, really? One must look to the plot, dissect it, and then take a stab at who they could be.

So, good luck with that.

The movie is all about the art of perception--since there are no correct answers to what’s unfolding here, each viewer likely will have a different experience when the movie comes to its incomplete conclusion, which offers a hive of other questions that go unanswered. For some, this idea of incompletion will satisfy, as there are few concrete answers in life, which leans into at least part of Scorsese’s larger point. For those who like their movies wrapped in a tight bow, you’re not going to get it here.

This is a film that needs to be walked around, so we’ll walk around it without getting too close. Leonardo DiCaprio, in a difficult performance handled with focus and intensity, is Teddy Daniels, a Boston Harbor-based marshal who is called with his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), to Shutter Island, which is off the coast of Massachusetts and houses the criminally insane. There, a woman by the name of Rachel Salando (Emily Mortimer) has gone missing. It’s Teddy and Chuck’s job to investigate.

As they come to know one another, we learn almost nothing about Chuck but a bit about Teddy himself. His wife (Michelle Williams) died in a fire with their daughter, and while that was two years prior, Teddy still looks pale and shaky. Are memories of them the reason? Could be, but Scorsese isn’t lingering to find out. The movies pushes forward and soon we’re on the island itself, where waves crash against rocks and the atmosphere is tense, to say the least.

There, each man is asked to hand over their guns before entering the asylum, which itself is a complex of prison-like buildings. Presumably, losing their guns is for their own safety, as prisoners are everywhere on the grounds--gardening with massive sheers. When Teddy and Chuck resist, they’re told they’re not getting inside without doing so. And so, they reluctantly do so. Who wants to bet whether that was a good idea?

Who also wants to bet that Scorsese, working from Laeta Kalogridis’ script, itself based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, is toying with B-movie conventions? The film is set in 1954, and it features all of the trappings of the movies of the time, only amplified by a master director who has the skills to at once employ them, toy with them and elevate them. Hitchcock’s presence, in particular, is felt everywhere in this movie--he could have directed key scenes, particularly those that involve Teddy clinging to the rocks surrounding the facility.

Other directors and movies strike influential bells--just who and which, we’ll leave for you--while Scorsese, working his own angles, introduces us to the asylum’s creepy director, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), and another fright in Max von Sydow, who plays a German doctor eager to inflict with horrendous intent. With his pale skin and white puff of hair, the man is an old Q-Tip replete with round glasses, a whiff of Nazism about him and a mean syringe at the ready. Enough said about him.

And also about the movie. “Shutter Island” will disappoint plenty, and delight plenty. It’s divisive. At the end, when you try to draw together the several loose ends, you should know that some won’t come together. The plot frays and it breaks. But here’s the question: Is this due to errors in the writing and direction, or is it because when a movie is about a collapse into madness (or the ramifications of a lingering psychological illness--you decide), a fractured plot might just be the perfect metaphor to underscore that madness, thus reversing the film back on itself and leaving more questions than answers.

Given the quality of the director, I’m giving Scorsese the benefit of the doubt.

Grade: B

View the trailer for "Shutter Island" here:

View our advanced look at the film here, which includes interview with the cast:

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  1. 44rainclouds said...

    The music, especially at the start, is SUPER annoying

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