Saturday, February 20, 2010

Movie Review: Shutter Island

Shutter Island (2010)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams

Back in 1992, Martin Scorsese remade the 1962 film noir classic Cape Fear. With Robert DeNiro and Nick Nolte in the leads, the film was nothing more than aesthetically pleasing camp. The actors were all over-the- top and many people would be hard pressed to even remember that it was a Scorsese remake and not some other director with a mediocre film resume.

Shutter Island plays out like Cape Fear, only much worse.

Based on a Dennis Lehane novel, Shutter Island is set in 1954, when film noir was at its peak at the multiplexes across America. It's clear that Scorsese's goal was to make a film noir-ish psychological thriller. Just don't expect Shutter Island to be that film.

U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are paired up together to solve the disappearance of Rachel Solando, an inmate at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Naturally, it's situated on an island where the only way on or off is via ferry boat. There they meet Dr. Crawley (Ben Kingsley), a man who wants to issue solved while providing the least amount of help possible. There's also a subplot involving flashbacks of Daniels' days as a soldier in the Second World War (he was one of the liberators of the Dachau concentration camp) and his rocky marriage to his deceased wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams).

The priority of most noir films of the 1940's and 1950's was its emphasis on visuals and style. The tragic and bleak conclusions were often secondary to the overall atmosphere of the film.

Stylistically, Shutter Island succeeds. Everything is washed over in a variety of grey tones and shadows. However, the plot, script and performances leaves much to be desired.

Neo-noir films (especially those of the 1970's) acknowledge the conventions of classic film noir, from the melodrama to the psychologically expressive visuals to the protagonist as a criminal. These are all derived from the German Expressionist film movement of the 1920's.

This film plays off as the horrible lovechild of Das Cabinet Dr. Caligari (1919, the greatest German Expressionist film of all time), Fight Club (1999) and A Beautiful Mind (2001). Unlike Roman Polanski's 1974 masterpiece Chinatown or Scorsese's own Taxi Driver, Shutter Island is nothing but an absolute mess and a wasted opportunity.

DiCaprio is such a wildly inconsistent actor. When he's at the top of his game, he's golden (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Catch Me If You Can), but when he's off his game, he's lousy (Titanic). DiCaprio, who has always struggles with accents, does so again here. His Boston accent fades in and out and alters so often to the point of distraction. Shutter Island is definitely his weakest outing in awhile. He and Scorsese need a break from one another.

Ruffalo, always a reliable actor, is probably the films strongest link. Despite an awful, sidekick role, he makes the best of what he's given. And he never once feels out of place in his 1950's fedora and trench coat.

Kingsley, Williams and the other secondary characters are all mediocre at best. Granted, the material they were given wasn't exactly award-winnin, but one could argue that any genuinely talented actor can rise above the material. That never happens here.

The plot is ludicrous. The outcome of the film is obvious about an hour into it's two hour and twenty minute running time. Just when you think the film couldn't possibly take another nonsensical turn, it does just that. This isn't a cool, mind-twist of a film. It's just outright awful.

It's hard to say anything more about the film as it would "spoil" the millions of twists and turns it takes. However, it's doubtful that many people will leave the theatre enthralled and enthusiastic about what they just witnessed.

It's clear that this twice delayed film had more woes than the studio could handle. By releasing it in February (where all movies go to die), the big bosses in Hollywood clearly didn't want anything more to do with it. Understandably so.



  1. I didn't see this as so much an ode to noir as an ode to 1950s B horror films (like Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Hitchcock thrillers. In the first instance I thought Shutter Island succeede, although I didn't get what the subliminal message about craxy things going on in our world today was...

    It definitely had a lot of Hitchcockian elements, especially the music and the faske backdrops (like when Leo and the warden of the facility are driving along the islant in a jeep). The one thing I didn't like were the "Nightmares" Teddy has. The CGI reminded me of a lot of lame horror films out these days, I thought it was stupid, and the ending of the film definitely reminded me of "Identity" with John Cusack, which was disappointing.

    Overall, though, I thought it was a pretty good movie. I'd probably give it a B

  2. I've read some reviewers who had the same opinion; that it was some sort of ode to Hitchcock. Maybe it's because it was just such a terrible movie, but I don't really see the Hitchcock homage in there. Were there particular scenes that come to mind for you?

    I love the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. THAT was an enjoyable B-horror film. Shutter Island was not.

    Yeah, the CGI was surprisingly lame, put if you are right in your assumption that it was going to B-horror film campiness, could some of it have been intentional? Who knows.

    The flashbacks were definitely awful. The audience laughed too many times for me to ever have taken this film seriously. I love Scorsese. I trust him as a director. But I won't stick up for him for making this. haha.

    It's interesting, though, because I was totally prepared to have your way of thinking when watching the film (B-horror film, ode to Hitchcock, etc.) but I just thought it was bad. I kept waiting for it to get better.

    No worries about the typos. ;)

  3. I mentioned in my podcast about it (which goes up on Monday morning if you want to listen), that when SHUTTER ISLAND ended, I thought it might be the sort of movie that I liked but that other people wouldn't.

    (Hard to pinpoint what made me feel that way, I just did).

    I caught on to the oddities you pointed out - strange visions of things that weren't there - but I think what might have made the difference between your reaction and mine, was that I just resigned myself to running with them. The only thing that held me back from really diving headlong into the film, was the fact that I was sitting around some rather unruly movie goers (read: texting addicts, and beer drinkers).

    Interesting take on the flick...but I still dig it.

  4. I'll check out your review right now. It seems to be the type of film you either love or hate. I've heard a lot of people rave about it but I couldn't wait for it to be over. I'm curious to see what you liked about it.

  5. I really think that the movie tried to show that an individual cannot fight the system and if someone tries will only be considered crazy.the system will defend itself by eliminating such agents.and one of their own ways is either convince them or tell that they are crazy.