8.23.2010

REVIEW: Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

When Ashecliffe, island-based hospital for the criminally insane, experiences an implausible patient disappearance, a U.S. Marshal undertakes investigation of the premises. Unnerving suspicions arise when the Marshal's thorough survey is not met with unanimous compliance from the facility's operators. Are hidden practices being carried out deep within the hospital's isolated confines, or is something even stranger afoot? Magnificent movie maestro Martin Scorsese and his new millennium muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, return to Massachusetts for their fourth collaboration, based on the 2003 novel by Mystic River author Dennis Lehane.

I could unfairly state - as I admittedly have many a time since my theatrical experience with Shutter Island - the film's dominating stigma of predictability presents itself almost immediately. Don't get me wrong. Scorsese doesn't seem capable of unworthy output. Even when I don't necessarily "like" something he's done (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) I generally garner objective respect for it nonetheless. Shutter Island isn't bad, per se, but it is predictable. If you've seen films with similar twists, it's likely you'll piece this one together, if not in the opening scenes at least by the midway mark. What makes this statement unfair, though, is how Scorsese handles such predictable fare. Ol' Marty seems savvy to we sharp moviegoers and toys with our hypotheses. Through a descent into madness in which no one's word can be taken without a full shaker of salt, he never allows full galvanization of our hunches. No matter how obvious answers may seem, we can't knowingly shake our heads until the final unveiling provides procedural confirmation (displayed in a fashion rather reminiscent of Vanilla Sky).

So, the plot being in "Eh, ya like it or ya don't" territory, the most important aspect here is atmosphere, and Scorsese lays it on thick right from the get-go. The most memorable sequence I found was no more than two scenes in, when encroaching, methodical visuals and a dynamic score meld to produce a sense of isolation. With the location's remoteness, even the employees and administrators seem imprisoned... and now we, the audience, are prisoners as well. There's a very classic feel to it all, really, and through this Shutter Island feels like what a 1940s-'60s thriller would be if it were made today. It is all very Hitchcockian, and provides what I imagine must be the sort of excitement people felt when, say, Psycho was first released.

As far as new millennium Scorsese goes (and overall I do prefer this more recent stuff), Gangs of New York still commands the crown but Shutter Island commands a certain respect. Here the director is letting loose with material he hasn't completely delved into before with mountains of conviction and zero restraint. Peter Travers provided the film's marketing the blurb, "For people who live and breathe film." I concur to an extent, but I'd more strongly recommend to people who aren't total cinephiles, for they may be more taken with the twists and turns.

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