Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Leaving Shutter Island

In the film Shutter Island, the characters are trapped on a small island in the Boston harbor that is home to a 'mental institution... for the criminally insane'. A monstrous storm pounds the island making it impossible for anyone to leave. But, director Martin Scorsese has crafted the film in such a way, that audiences will find it difficult to leave Shutter Island themselves.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays US Marshal Teddy Daniels, investigating a disappearance on the island with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo). They are offered little to no assistance from the institution's administrator (Ben Kingsely) or doctors (Max von Sydow) and Teddy is tormented with migraines and images of his murdered wife (Michelle Williams). To go anymore further into the plot is to give away clues in a mystery that includes so many subtle nuances that, the ending aside, the film almost demands multiple viewings. Suffice to say that the movie taps directly into the era of the 1950's with it's Cold War paranoia, flashbacks of World War II and just being a simpler time when people still trust in the decency of mankind.

Like in The Departed and The Aviator, DiCaprio's performance carries the film. The character of Teddy Daniels is determined, troubled, clever, suspicious and human all at the same time. He has his own reasons to investigate Shutter Island and his own demons to exorcise. By becoming emotionally compromised, he becomes an unreliable narrator, but it is through his eyes that we view this story. Which makes it all the more compelling because as you identify with Teddy, you want him to be right about everything that is wrong. You want him to break from protocol, avenge his wife's death and unravel the vast conspiracy that evades the innermost secrets of the island. It's a strangely exciting ride, for how dark and macabre the film becomes, but it's a testament to both actor and director that you can care so much for a deeply disturbed and violent man.

The supporting cast in in excellent form as well, including the aforementioned actors, as well as Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas. While most of them only appear for a single scene, they make the most of their time on the screen, in captivating shots lensed by Robert Richardson. Additionally, the flashbacks of Teddy liberating Dachau in World War II only make me salivate at the thought of a Martin Scorsese war movie.

Of course, no review of a Scorsese film would be accurate without mentioning the director. Shutter Island becomes a loving homage to films of the period, from the horror movies of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourner to the suspenseful psychological thrillers of Hitchcock. Replete with references and nods to these films and more, Scorsese gets the most from DiCaprio by utilizing his movie star power to not only mine the richer payoff of DiCaprio the actor, but by bringing to a larger audience his special craft at filmmaking, his respect and affection for cinema history and his knack for keeping it all so very entertaining.


Heather said...

Sometimes with movies after you leave the theatre the excitement of having the theatre experience wears off and you realize the film may not have been as special as the magic of seeing it actually was. With Shutter Island, I feel the opposite. The longer it sits with me the more impressed I am, and the more I long to see a second viewing knowing what I know now. It was a masterful compilation of everything great about this genre of film Scorsese and DiCaprio simply kick ass.

The Mad Hatter said...

Well said good sir.

Know what I'm wondering - how did we not talk about the fact that Leo is in every single scene?? That's so rare for an actor these days and a testament to how good he was in this movie that he could carry that sort of load.

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Big Mike Mendez said...

Heather - I like a film like Shutter Island that leaves me thinking about it long after I've left the theatre and it only compels me to want to see it again. Maybe this weekend?

Hatter - Yes, Leo carries the movie, much more than any of their previous collaborations and is a testament, I think, to the growing trust and faith that he and Scorsese share in each other.