Friday 12 March 2010

Review: Shutter Island

Year: 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Laeta Kalogridis
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydrow, Michelle Williams

Plot Synopsis is here

Note: This review has been written to try and avoid spoilers and it should give anything in the story away. However inquisitive readers may put what they've seen from the trailer, other sites and what I mention in the early paragraphs and put somethings together. You have been warned.

Shutter Island is a movie I will need to see again. One because I loved it, and two because I found the screenplay (Night Watch's Laeta Kalogridis), so neatly placed together, working so well with Scorsese graceful direction makes sure that at the end of the film, it has kept the same air of logical ambiguity that we entered.

We shouldn't look at this film for absolute reasoning. The films mood (Likened by Roger Ebert to a haunted house movie), atmosphere and themes forbid it. It's obvious from the violent rainstorm outside, the spiraling staircases and maze like quality of certain areas of the Shutter Island mental hospital, that the film takes place within the recesses of the mind. Of course we all know that when we think, normally the thoughts, flash backs and/or otherwise are always fractured, they never appear in true clarity.

With this knowledge in tow, I fully appreciated the films dream logic. Like A Nightmare on Elm street, Scorsese films the piece in such a way that you never truly know which scenes are real and which ones are not. It revels in surreality almost to the point where at the end, where what could easily have been a terrible plot hole in an inferior movie, could merely be askew judgment from a twisted perspective. Many have felt that the trailer, that has been played for so long due to the unfortunate delay of the movie may give away too much. But no, Shutter Island keeps it's cards close to it's chest and still manages to make a viewer second guess what they're seeing.

It's a fantastic turning of the screws from the film's screenplay that does it. Detectors have stated that the script is patchy. I disagree. It is purposely hazy and Scorsese masterful direction play on our need for reasoning constantly. We focus on certain things because he wants us to, questioning aspects to make us forget others. A second viewing of this film will reveal more to us because our prospective will have changed. We will look at characters again in a different light and respond and react differently...perhaps. What makes the film so devilishly enjoyable that the second viewing may leave you in the dark or shed more light on the conclusion, such is the delicate handling of the work.

Performance wise, DiCaprio puts in what I consider to be his finest work. The boyish image is gone and a harden look has taken it's place. It's interesting that the other 50's period piece that he was in; Revolutionary Road had him overacting the role with a shouty "look at me" display which did nothing but point out what could be is flaws. DiCaprio is better in films like this where he's allowed to be a but more introspective and restrained, with flashes of emotion. He slips into the hard boiled role with ease and by the film's climax I was truly won over.

He is also surrounded by great character acting talent. It might feel like a bit of a conveyor belt of talent, rolled out to do "their little bit" but it gels so well with the narrative, that nagging feeling can easily be ignored. I could be here forever talking about Jackie Earle Haley's intensity, the wonderful chemistry Mark Ruffalo shares with DiCaprio or the pivotal scenes which have excellent moments from Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer or even the uneasy clam that Sir Ben Kingsley provides....oh and Ted Lavines sleazy.....see?

It's easy to mark on the films Scorsese has been influenced by and talk about them. A bit of shock corridor here, a touch of vertigo there, a sprinkling of film noir, however as a genre piece of it's own the film works fine. It's gorgeous cinematography may have film buffs hooting and hollering but those who haven't seen the aforementioned films can enjoy this as well. The references don't feel obvious and tacked on. They are constructed to help highlight the emotions and mindset of the film not just to show the filmmakers knowledge.

Dripping with a tension and dread I haven't felt since my first viewing of Ringu, Shutter Island is a film that really did a number on me. It's a film that I can't wait to obtain on DVD, and had me considering on watching it again as soon as I can. Some have bemoaned that it's not as good as Goodfellas, Raging Bull and the like but I don't mind. This is Marty in his comfort zone, creating a genre piece that still has so much to absorb and inspire. Gushing period is over. I think I've found a film that I'll be still talking about at the end of the year.