9 April 2010

Movie Review: Shutter Island



B+

Shutter Island
2010, 138mins, 15
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer (s): Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane (novel)
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Ruffalo, Emily Mortimer
UK Release Date: 12th March 2010

“Shutter Island” defies expectations from start to finish. Whilst far from Martin Scorsese’s best film, it is one of the director’s most creatively shot; and coveys a genuine intelligence during its sizable duration. Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, “Shutter Island” is a giant mind-fuck of a feature, offering a richly envisioned and eerily imagined view of those at the brink of madness. At times the feature over indulges itself, and the 138 minute runtime does seem a tad excessive, but those seeking an original and provocative time at the movies will still get exactly what they want.

The year is 1954. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are headed to Shutter Island, the location of America’s most prominent asylum for the criminally insane. The pair has been summoned due to the disappearance of a dangerous female patient, but on arrival they find the facility and its staff far more intriguing. As Teddy probes harder into the Hospital’s methods, he makes several disturbing discoveries and becomes suspicious of its leading psychiatrist; Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). As a storm rages around the Island (making departure impossible), Teddy has his own sanity tested, something that has endured recent strains due to the passing of his wife (Michelle Williams).

“Shutter Island” really is a beautiful looking production, and the musical score arouses further vibes of big screen audacity. As a technical work the film is flawless, albeit it would be remiss to expect anything less from Scorsese. The film’s gothic style is captured through sublime cinematography and moody photography, with several trippy editorial quirks added in to screw with viewer’s minds. The film’s aesthetics are layered and rewardingly complex, at times Scorsese’s effort is more interesting to look at than it is to follow. It’s probably fair to say that “Shutter Island” is one of Scorsese’s most visually dazzling and intricate works, everything about the movie pervades an unsettling sense of mental disintegration and a disturbing detour into undiluted madness.

“Shutter Island” isn’t the straight forward detective thriller suggested by its trailer. The film does play for large chunks of its running as a mystery, but the project is far more character orientated than the marketing hints at. DiCaprio’s character has his mind turned inside out during “Shutter Island”, the film going to great length in its examination of Teddy’s wife’s death and the violent part he played in the liberation of Dachau. DiCaprio struggles from time to time with his characters heavy Boston accent, but otherwise it’s s a poignant and emotionally powerful performance. Helping matters are an eclectic mix of character actors such as Bin Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer and an outstandingly creepy Michelle Williams. The acting in “Shutter Island” is consistently impressive, the only weak link being Mark Ruffalo; who is merely bland rather than terrible.

“Shutter Island” is fascinating for the most part, and it builds to a convincingly plotted and twisty denouement. The screenplay is competently written, with a nice balance offered between the spooky Island and Teddy’s seemingly tragic past. The picture has enough excitement to keep viewers entertained and intellectually stimulated, Scorsese mixing the narrative up often and with obvious relish. A genuine concern is its overwrought length; “Shutter Island” could easily be just as enjoyable with a hefty twenty minutes shaved off its runtime. The production possibly offers a character or flashback too many, whatever the reason the pacing at times feels uneven. Audiences will still be satisfactorily gripped by the movie, but the occasional languid spot is what stops “Shutter Island” from becoming truly great.

In short “Shutter Island” is worth watching, but definitely not to the same extent as Scorsese’s best films. The acting is routinely inspired and the hallucinogenic visuals provide a sensory delight, but the story could have been tighter and more focused in parts. “Shutter Island” does ultimately provide viewers with a curiously captivating mindboggler of a screenplay, but there seems no legitimate reason as for why it demands such a hulking timeframe to convey its plot. So whilst “Shutter Island” is miles ahead of most multiplex dross, it’s hard to see it scoring big (or at all) come next year’s awards season.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2010

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