Reviewed by Nomad
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Two detectives find themselves on Shutter Island, home to the crazed and homicidally insane. The air hangs heavy with despair. The pair have been called to find a woman who vanished from a locked room with no apparent means of escape. As the mystery unfolds, a storm threatens to tear the very buildings from the ground. The skies grow dark and angry, mirroring the hostile energies seen in the faces of every inmate and crew member on the island. Finding the truth may mean the end of someone’s life.
Shutter Island sets a tone straight out of the gate with dark, shadowy imagery (even when in daylight), a muted color palette, and a splash of noir-esque style peppered across the top. Though I will admit to being tired of heavy retro accents in these types of films, the atmosphere was enough to slowly pull me in. Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is breaking in a new partner (Ruffalo) on a missing person’s case that happens on an island crammed with characters straight out of a classic whodunit paperback. In that scenario, Daniels should have been the hard-boiled, hard-drinking, womanizing private dick. Instead, we get a surprisingly intelligent, brooding man who shuns alchohol and is haunted by incredibly vivid dreams that are heartbreakingly beautiful and, yet, horrifically real. These scenes play out amid the story, haunting Teddy’s sleep and spilling over into his waking world, heightening his paranoia. We watch him slowly fall apart.
To be clear, these nightmare images are the only aspects of “horror” in this film. In fact, when the truth of the film is revealed, we are left knowing there was even less at stake than we thought. All could be forgiven if the subject matter drew us in and held tight, but those horrible images are the only really gripping moments (save the ending…and sub-ending); and set against the true plot (which isn’t really the true plot), they play more like a French film shoehorned into a crime drama. The tale takes its time to unfold, and the viewer is brought along for every step…every rock scaled…every gate passed…every hall searched…and every rock descended once again. I felt as if I were watching the most beautiful video game I’d ever seen. It seems very Silent Hill in its approach. They say the devil is in the details, but I don’t need to ride along with every moment of Teddy’s life to know where he’s headed and feel for him. The exercise seems a bit tedious.
Decaprio’s decent into hell is a painful one, and we see the torment on his face at every turn, even when in silent reflection. In counterpoint, Ruffalo runs alongside like an eager puppy with a cigarette hanging from its mouth. The pair are compelling enough to carry a movie by themselves. The REAL show-stoppers come in unexpected places. Elias Koteas has a very brief moment as the twisted pyromaniac Laeddis, whose every word drips with lascivious intent. This man relishes in the pain he inflicts, directly and mentally. You can practically smell him through the screen. Jackie Earle Haley is also given a brief but overwhelmingly earth-shattering moment in a dark cell, behind rusting prison bars and three pounds of makeup, giving him the appearance of a thoroughly shattered man. Each character’s time makes perfect sense in the scheme of things, and getting more from them would certainly be overkill so we leave them to continue the tale, knowing they will stay with us until the closing credits.
I often say that fantastic acting saves most mundane scripts. This is one instance where I believe a story has been overly written. If we were given more time with what is a flawless cast of incredible actors doing their jobs beyond any human power (despite DiCaprio’s nagging accent) in place of “pursuit” scenes, the film would have been the better for it. Every character is made amazingly real by sheer force of ability, but in the end the story goes nowhere. It’s aggravating to write this review and look down on the accomplishment without being able to explain why the result felt empty to me, but this is the case. If I were to spoil the twist for you, you’d get it! Let’s just say, all the climbing and exploring and deep probing of the denizens of Shutter Island is made pointless in the end, and the explanation will leave you scratching your head over the lengths taken to achieve this hollow (but oddly, still powerful) climax.
As you can tell, this one has left me conflicted. I can say that the movie you see in the trailer is not really the movie you get. I can also say that the public at large will probably not embrace the content. Shutter Island may have played better with a smaller scope, unknown actors of quality, and a faster pace. It probably should have been a heavily atmospheric indie. Will this stop anyone from making the film number one at the box office? Doubtful. The actors’ names alone beside the legendary Scorsese will be enough to drive people, and their wallets, to the movies on opening weekend; but when word of mouth builds, it may kill the momentum a bit. Shutter Island is a dark, torturous flight into insanity to be sure, but it’s a thinker, and that’s not for everyone.
3 1/2 out of 5
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