Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)


It seems impossible to discuss Martin Scorsese’s complex and thought provoking film in any real depth without giving away any spoilers. Adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel of the same name, Shutter Island will likely be one of the most talked about films of 2010. Misrepresented in the trailers to appear to be a horror/thriller, it really becomes so much more. I viewed it to be a police procedural turned psychological conspiracy thriller. While I was accurate in my assessment, at the same time I was very wrong. The film opens on a ferry, with U.S Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) assigned to investigate the disappearance of a female patient from an asylum for the criminally insane on Shutter Island. When they arrive on the Island they are met by an impatient, extremely on-edge unit of guards that drive them from the dock to the gates of the facility, and outline the protocol. When they begin the investigation they receive even less co-operation from the staff and orderlies, and the chief psychiatrist, Dr John Cawley (Ben Kingsley in a brilliant performance). We discover that Daniels had previously investigated the asylum and had uncovered a potential conspiracy involving unlawful treatment of difficult patients. We also learn that Daniels’ wife had been killed years previous in a house fire started by an Andrew Laeddus, who he also believes is a current patient at the asylum. Daniels had volunteered for this mission, with a personal agenda beyond the missing woman.
Through the first hour of the film I was reminded of The Wicker Man (1973), an investigator arriving on an island after the report of missing person and met with patronizing, uncooperative subjects. This is exactly what Scorsese and the script wants you to believe. It works so well that even when you are given the final reveal, and provided evidence that differs from this very probable narrative, you still don’t believe it, and the shock for the viewer is a jolt back to the actual reality, which is much the same for DiCaprio’s character. The truth has to be forced down our throats, as we, like Daniels, choose to reject everything explained by Cawley, based on the assumption that he is a man that divulges in evil treatment methods and is working against the investigation. But whose assumption is this? How sane is Daniels really? How do we explain the dreams he has? Why do the other patients seem amused by his presence, and even recognize him in some cases? Daniels is really the only one actively investigating everything, and we see no evidence that any of his theories actually exist. Even his partner Chuck (another amazing performance from Mark Ruffalo) seems to just observe Daniels and escort him through the investigation. On first viewing all of these subtle elements of the film are either ignored or missed. But the second viewing, once the final reveal has been absorbed and considered, is a real treat. It is essentially two films in one, a completely different experience with each subsequent viewing; hence a second viewing is essential to completely grasp the brilliance of the crafting.
As I have mentioned, all the performances are strong. DiCaprio had a great year, with excellent work in both Shutter Island and Inception. Ruffalo and Kingsley are both amazing. Shutter Island is beautifully shot, and Daniels' dream sequences are quite hypnotic. Despite a strong year for the cinematography and art direction categories at the 83rd Academy Awards, Shutter Island should have received some recognition. The editing is also fantastic, as the emotional responses by Ruffalo and Kingsley to DiCaprio’s actions are strong in establishing their roles in the film. The score is very strange, with the opening scenes accompanied by a haunting orchestra common to horror filmmaking. It works well to heighten our expectation of approaching suspense and associates the Island with a feeling of unsettling dread, a clever mislead. The use of Mahler throughout the film to accompany the WWII flashbacks is also beautifully done. The adapted script, which at first seems quite messy and full of inexplicable plot holes, reads much much better on the second viewing. Finally, with Martin Scorsese at the helm, it’s all handled masterfully. While it doesn't stand amongst Scorsese’s best, Shutter Island is destined to become a classic. I loved it!

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

1 comment:

  1. Glad you liked the movie man. I really enjoyed it, it's a great footnote movie. I hate it when people go "oh, but it's nowhere near as good as Goodfellas or The Departed". I mean, common. The man has made 20-30 films - not every single one has to be a masterpiece! But for what this was, I thought it was a solid effort.