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Shutter Island (A Movie Review)


Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Elias Koteas, Robin Bartlett, Christopher Denham, Nellie Sciutto, Joseph Sikora and Curtiss l'Cook.

Screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis.

Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 138 minutes. Rated R.

Even the great filmmakers are allowed an off day. Not everything Martin Scorsese makes can be expected to be great – or even good. So, we'll consider the nicely moody but ultimately rather muddled horror genre exercise Shutter Island to be just that: an exercise. It has some nice moments, some beautiful camera work, some interesting plot twists, and some decent scares, but eventually it falls apart under the weight of a rather preposterous plot and a basically overwrought style and tone.

It’s too bad because it comes from a good pedigree. Beyond the Scorsese name the film features a strong cast – including Scorsese’s current favorite leading man Leonardo DiCaprio and co-stars Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Max Von Sydow and Jackie Earle Haley. It was based on a novel by Dennis Lehane whose last two film adaptations were the acclaimed Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone.

However, try as he may, Scorsese is never quite able to reign in this more stylized (some might say clichéd) source material – cops investigating a mysterious disappearance in a spooky and isolated mental hospital.

Shutter Island automatically feels dated. That is not to say that this was not Scorsese’s intention – the film takes place in the 1950s and Scorsese’s last venture into the horror genre (his remake of Robert Mitchum’s Cape Fear) was also attempting to make a 1950s horror film seem a little modern. However, Cape Fear, though not a perfect film, was mostly able to break the shackles of its film noir source material.

Shutter Island was already a more modern pastiche of those stories, and yet it feels definitely more dated from the start.

Perhaps it is the ancient-feeling storyline – a mixture of such genre pieces as And Then There Were None, The House of Haunted Hill, The Haunting, The Legend of Hell House and, oddly enough, snippets of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Schindler’s List.

These Nazi scenes in particular, shown in flashback of the main character reliving the day he helped to liberate the Dachau concentration camp – seem a little gratuitous and insensitive. No film should be using that tragic time in history as seasoning for a larger and mostly unrelated story.

In fact, DiCaprio’s top cop seems to be as touched as any of the patients of the hospital from the beginning. He is having visions, hallucinations, flashbacks, and physical illnesses. Is he disturbed due to a tough history – including the World War II experience – or has he stumbled upon a huge conspiracy in which the spooky hospital is being used for experiments in brainwashing?

As said before, it is a Scorsese film, so there will always be some intriguing aspects. That said, by the time that the film downshifts into a “surprise” ending that most of the audience could see coming a mile down the pike, Shutter Island seems like a stylishly shot and meticulously acted waste of time and talent.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: February 19, 2010.


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