Friday, February 19, 2010

Jordan's Review: Shutter Island

From its opening image of a boat slowly emerging from the fog, to its often nearly oppressive score, from its police procedural groundings to its surreal journey through the human mind, there is little doubt that Shutter Island is an excercise in pulp. The pieces, from a hardened, self righteous cop who just wants to learn the truth to a sinister psychologist who seems to be hiding something, to the setting of an inescapable island asylum for the criminally insane are standard fare. Further, the plot has its contrivances and its turns (none of which I'll reveal here, but none of which should be too surprising to any viewers nevertheless), but at the end of it all isn't really the point of the movie at all. This is not Scorsese's attempt to create the most original or twisty film of his career; its his take on The Shining, and his influences show through from the first.

U.S. Marshall Edward "Teddy" Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to Shutter Island after a patient reportedly escaped and soon find themselves caught in the midst of a hurricane that complicates their attempts to investigate her disappearance. With those pieces in place, Scorsese has plenty of room to play with the standard genre fare, and with surrealistic glimpses into Teddy's tortured past. And play he does, creating some of the most artful scenes of his career, filled with fire, ash, and Kubrick-red blood, with haunting images and cryptic warnings.

The movie doesn't get its joy from its plot, but rather from the ride it takes you on in the process. Shutter Island is an examination of how we define insanity, a glimpse into the troubled past of a tortured protagonist, a walking nightmare and a wall-to-wall thriller all rolled into one frantic, go for broke suspense film, handled by one of the masters of cinema, and at its best, it is a pure joy to behold. Fortunately it spends most of its run time operating on all cylinders, and supporting turns from Ben Kingsley, Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson fill it in well. This is more than simply a film, its a collection of very talented people working well together and having fun doing it, and that makes it hard to hold any of the movie's (admittedly minor) flaws against it for very long. It accomplishes everything it set out to, and what it aimed to accomplish is a hell of a thing to behold.

Grade: A-


  1. I'm sorry, but I'd have to disagree with you. I thought Shutter Island was predictable, too slow, and underwhelming. Though, I'd have to say, I loved the setting and I loved his final line having to do with dying a hero or living to be a monster--something like that. The acting was good, luckily, his dreams weren't as corny they could of been, and the creepy setting (Alcatraz for crazies?) made it a bearable film, but certainly not an A-. But we all have our tastes. I know I loved Leonardo in Titanic. (slight sarcasm)

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  3. I think it was absolutely predictable, but I also think that it was never aiming to be anything else. Like most great pulp, the point isn't the story, which is pretty rote, its the ride the movie takes you on. It took me on quite the ride, and watching Scorsese doing his best Kubrick was a blast. Thanks for your comments!-Jordan