21 February 2010

Shutter Island review

Not every Martin Scorsese movie consists of foul-mouthed gangsters, a constantly moving camera and a soundtrack of period pop songs. That's why I'm a little confused when people make it sound like Scorsese was stepping out of his comfort zone and trying his hand at "something new."

While it is true he's never made a thriller like this before, he has tried his hand at thrillers with his remake of Cape Fear. I'm personally not a big fan of that film and I think you can trace the following it does have to Robert DeNiro hamming it up and the really awesome Simpsons parody it spawned. Still, Scorsese has already tried his hand at putting audiences on the edge of their seat with a "nail biter" movie.

None the less, despite how famous Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are, most people associate Scorsese with gangster movies. Given what a redefining film Goodfellas is, that's not necessarily a bad thing but it's still a commentary on what a limited perspective the casual movie goer can have. Maybe I'm just mad more people haven't seen After Hours. That is Scorsese's most underrated film and one of my favorites of his. It's truly an awesome movie and not enough people have taken the time to watch it (or even know it exists) but I digress.

Shutter Island is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, an author whose work has popped up in Hollywood a few times in the 2000s. Everyone's favorite curmudgeon Clint Eastwood brought Mystic River to the big screen in 2003 and Ben Affleck (!) directed the adapation of Gone Baby Gone. Mystic River wasn't a favorite of mine but so far, the guy's had a pretty good track record.

Despite some bitching by critics about the film's third act (that's admittedly where my beef lies, too), Lehane and his work is going to continue to stay in good standing as Shutter Island is a pretty good movie.

Whether you love Leonard DiCaprio or hate him, he works well with Scorsese. Gangs of New York and The Aviator have somewhat fallen by the wayside but both films had merit and their problems weren't with DiCaprio's performances. And to a lot of people, The Departed is Scorsese's best work since Goodfellas (I disagree but that harkens back to the "limited perspective" thing I referenced earlier). Anyway, given the second life their collaboration has breathed into Scorsese's career, you really can't blame them for wanting to continue to work with each other.

DiCaprio is fine here, along with Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, John Carroll Lynch, Patricia Clarkson and a slew of other good actors in small parts but the acting takes a backseat to the atmosphere, visuals and cinematography. Those are the real stars of the film.

The moody dream sequences are haunting and have a strange beauty to them. I wouldn't call the pace of the film brisk but it does suck you in as everything unfolds and DiCaprio's sanity seems to crack, which is as good a time as any to segue into the rather troubled third act.

The twist isn't anything that's going to shock you but that's not the problem. Too many films, like Identity and everything by M. Night Shyamalan rely on their twists to justify their worth as films. There's a "Wait for it...Wait for it...WAIT FOR IT!" quality to those films which often kill everything that came before it and eliminate any future replay value (at least for me). In Shutter Island, the twist is incidental. You can pretty much see it coming and despite the third act's problems, it's the logical point for the story to go to. The problem is that it's pure exposition. Kingsley and Ruffalo explain everything, they cut to DiCaprio looking freaked out, then cut back to Kingsley and Ruffalo continuing to explain everything, then cut back to DiCaprio looking freaked out. Lather, rinse, repeat. Oh, and cut to DiCaprio's flashback, which you've already figured out anyway. Small reveal at the end, boom, movie's over, end credits.

It's not necessarily bad but when you consider the imagery and the way they mounted the tension in the previous two-thirds of the film, it just feels like a step back. It's still a film that is well-worth your time. Scorsese continues to remind us why he's Martin Scorsese and well-crated thrillers are hard to come by these days. Check it out. And see After Hours, dammit.

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