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Movie Review: 'Shutter Island'
Martin Scorsese's 'Shutter Island' opens nationwide today
Shutter Island is a sign that the Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration should end. It was with much anticipation that we attended an advance screening of the movie a few days ago and it was with much disappointment we left the theater. We haven't seen a film as confused as this in quite some time. Yes, the plot about a US Marshall, played by DiCaprio, investigating the disappearance of a patient/inmate at an island-bound mental hospital ("for the criminally insane" - repeated inanely) in the 1950s, is convoluted and complicated, but it's the actual film that feels confused.Boston Harbor does have an island with a former mental hospital on it and Boston Harbor does have an island with a Civil War era fort on it, both key references in the setting of the film, yet Scorsese decided that the best thing to do instead of using those locations would be to create a computer-generated mega island that rises from the mist like Mordor out of Peter Jackson's mind. On the island every white picket-fence scene is underscored by what we thought is supposed to be creepy weirdness a la David Lynch. The David Lynch link was confirmed by an elaborately surreal dream sequence that is probably the highlight of the film. Unfortunately this occurs before we're even halfway through the film so it's a long slog downhill from this "highlight".
Performance-wise, it's difficult to swallow the still-boyish DiCaprio as the senior investigating officer despite appearing to be unshaven since a stint as an infantryman in World War II. Also, his addition of several pounds of beefiness will not satisfy those who come to the film interested in seeing more eye-candy moments of DiCaprio. Mark Ruffalo who plays DiCaprio's partner, pulls off his character the best out of the entire cast. Ben Kingsley's portrayal of the psychologist Dr. Crawley just seemed too contemporary and superficial. We always love seeing Max von Sydow, and as a character-actor he more than satisfies as Kingsley's psychologist colleague. Von Sydow's presence reminded us of all of his appearances in Ingmar Bergman's films, films that feature spirits and ghosts that appear from shadows and corners of rooms, a device that Scorsese employs repeatedly in Shutter Island. Is the film a tribute to Lynch and Bergman? It sometimes felt like it.
Supposedly this film is about 1950s paranoia: who is a friend or foe, who/what is real vs. charade, who is manipulating who, and other themes that we thought have been much better explored in efforts such as Patrick MacGoohan's TV series "The Prisoner". We understand that the hurricane that is buffeting the island is an allegory of the chaos in the real world and the chaos that can take over our minds.
We also understand that the film is about trauma: trauma and horror is shared by both the perpetrators and victims of crimes whether in war or at home. The problem is that the film can't get behind one or two of these ideas and fully explore them - Scorcese has bitten off more than he can chew. In fact he attempts to wrap the film up with what is essentially a "what did we learn today, kids?" statement from DiCaprio which, with a few saccharine embellishments, would have been more appropriate at the end of "The Sarah Silverman Program".
The end product is a well-filmed (kudos to cinematographer Robert Richardson) but hopelessly jumbled and weak film. Shutter Island was originally to be released in October which would have been an appropriate time for the thriller/creepiness factor to help gloss over the film's many potholes. Without that timeliness the film floats hopelessly much like its mythical island in Boston Harbor.
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