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Movie Review: Shutter Island

Saturday, February 20th, 2010

Shutter Island DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese takes us back to the paranoid Cold War era in Shutter Island, based on the best-seller by Mystic River’s Dennis Lehane. (Please be advised that this review may contain some spoilers.) This psychological thriller, set in Massachusetts in 1954, follows U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they venture to Shutter Island, home of the fortress-like mental institution Ashecliffe Hospital, to investigate the inexplicable disappearance of a patient named Rachel Solondo. To make matters worse, a hurricane has trapped the two cops on this godforsaken rock for the time being.

As they try to determine how Rachel escaped and her current whereabouts, Teddy and Chuck are stonewalled by the warden (Ted Levine) and the hospital’s urbane but shifty administrator, Dr. Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley), who is championing a (then) revolutionary new method for treating the criminally insane. The deeper Teddy digs into the mystery of Rachel’s disappearance and what is really going on at Ashecliffe, the more he himself grows disturbed. Teddy becomes haunted by memories of his late wife (Michelle Williams) and of the atrocities he witnessed as a G.I. during World War II. Has Teddy been exposed to something sinister on Shutter Island that’s causing this breakdown, or has Ashecliffe simply unleashed demons that were already within him?

I started reading Lehane’s novel a few months ago, but stopped about a quarter of the way through for two reasons. First, I guess I didn’t really want to spoil the movie for myself after all, and, secondly, I had a hunch that I’d figured out where the story was going and what its big twist was going to be. After watching the movie — and then reading the end of the novel — it turns out my hunch was right on target. It’s tough to find a thriller truly suspenseful when you’ve figured out its big twist within the first act (or from just watching the trailers). Anyone who has seen enough psychological thrillers, or for that matter almost any given episode of The Twilight Zone, will be able to figure out Shutter Island just as easily. But that doesn’t mean you still won’t be entertained.

Rather than being able to enjoy Shutter Island as a psychodrama as it was meant to be, I instead appreciated its style, atmosphere, production values, direction and the lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s a B-movie made by A-listers, with Scorsese fashioning his most Hollywood movie since Cape Fear (and maybe even more so than that film). Shutter Island is a great filmmaking exercise for Scorsese to make the type of pulpy, overwrought genre B-movies he grew up watching. It plays like an old Hammer horror film (Vincent Price could have played either the Kingsley or von Sydow roles back in the day), and at other times like the German Expressionist classics (such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) that reportedly influenced Scorsese in making this film. It’s also an homage to Shock Corridor, a film made by one of his idols, Sam Fuller. While it’s fun to see Scorsese having fun, it’s also a lot of effort spent on a shell game where you know which shell the nut is hidden under the entire time.

Check out the Shutter Island movie clips

DiCaprio just gets better with each film, especially the ones he makes with Scorsese. As they did in The Aviator and The Departed, Scorsese and DiCaprio have created another protagonist perpetually on the verge of losing his grip as they intensify the pressure on his psyche until the stress finally causes a climactic rupture. There are layers to DiCaprio’s performance that should be more evident upon subsequent viewings, but he is, along with Christian Bale, one of the few young actors who can bring depth, complexity and subtlety to obsessed, often unhinged characters.

The rest of the cast is solid. Ruffalo is tasked with perhaps the most challenging role in the film, while the reading of Kingsley’s character is entirely dependent on the reliability of the protagonist’s questionable perspective. I don’t want to say more about their roles than that, suffice to say their performances become increasingly critical as the narrative draws to a close. Michelle Williams’ role is a small but pivotal one. Jackie Earle Haley has one gripping scene with DiCaprio that further showcases why he’s become such an in-demand (and deservedly celebrated) supporting actor these last few years. It’s also nice to see Max von Sydow appear in a Scorsese film, albeit in a rather one-note role. Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Elias Koteas also have small but showy roles.

From the opening shot, Scorsese creates an atmosphere of gloom and uncertainty that permeates the entire film. He transports us to a frightening, alien world populated by untrustworthy and dangerous people. You’ll feel like you’re really inside a 1950s asylum in Shutter Island, and that sense of authenticity and ominousness – thanks to Lehane’s research as well as the cinematography, production design, costumes, score and sound design – keeps us invested in the protagonist and his plight even when the film bogs down about midway through.

Shutter Island is a well-acted, handsomely made, old-fashioned haunted house movie that’s nevertheless marred by the same elements — plot holes, red herrings, familiar genre tropes and an overall reliance on heavy-handed trickery — that have undone so many other thrillers from lesser filmmakers. Scorsese’s virtuoso craftsmanship here may be both the best and ironically the worst thing about Shutter Island, but he has unquestionably made it a far more intriguing incarceration than it otherwise could have been. A mixed bag from Martin Scorsese is still better than most other filmmakers’ best efforts.


New Movie Releases – February 19, 2010

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Shutter Island arrives in theaters across North America this, Friday. The suspense thriller reteams Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese.

Shutter Island DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Synopsis: The film, based on the novel “Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane, is an atmospheric psychological thriller set in a 1950s asylum for the criminally insane. It’s 1954, and up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Shutter Island’s Ashecliffe Hospital. He’d been gunning for an assignment on the island for reasons of his own — but before long he wonders whether he hasn’t been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister.

Teddy’s code-breaking skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals “escape” in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues proliferate, Teddy begins to doubt everything — his memory, his partner, even his own sanity.

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow; Directed by: Martin Scorsese


DiCaprio gets stranded on Shutter Island

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Shutter Island DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Leonardo DiCaprio is looking and sounding a bit helpless this morning, and it’s not his fault.

He’s anxious to talk about “Shutter Island”, the eerie new thriller which marks his fourth outing with director Martin Scorsese, but he has this problem. A big problem.

A reporter has just complimented him for bringing clarity to his complex performance as a troubled young U.S. Marshal plunged into an unfathomable mystery on a spooky island off the Massachusetts coast. But as the DiCaprio struggles to talk about how he created that performance, he suddenly breaks off.

“It’s very difficult for me to publicize this film,” he says apologetically.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to be here, in this hotel ballroom, discussing an excruciatingly difficult acting assignment and the rich creative rewards it brought him. It’s the nature of the material which dictates caution.

Leonardo Dicaprio and Mark Ruffalo
Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo star in “Shutter Island”

This film adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s labyrinthine novel coils and uncoils in various unexpected directions and reaches a shocker of a climax. DiCaprio’s difficulty is simple. He doesn’t want to give anything away because of “the sheer nature of what goes on in the movie.” He must choose his words carefully.

He’s wearing a loose blue pullover and dark slacks. His hair is unfashionably slicked back. DiCaprio is now 35, but there’s still an element of the eternal schoolboy in his demeanour. He can still look like the kid from “Titanic” – a factor which prompted some critics to complain recently that he seemed too young to be believable as a thirtysomething husband coping with a collapsing marriage in “Revolutionary Road“.

He continues to fight that image and one of his allies in that battle is Scorsese who considers DiCaprio perhaps the finest young actor of his generation. The two have now worked together four times – “Gangs Of New York”, “ The Departed“, “The Aviator” (in which DiCaprio delivered a riveting portrayal of Howard Hughes) and now “Shutter Island”, which opens Feb. 19.

Laeta Kalogridis’s screenplay for this new film intrigued DiCaprio. For him, it evoked “some of the great detective genres of the past” – indeed, at Scorsese’s bidding the actor revisited classic thrillers like “Vertigo” and “Out Of The Past” – but it soon became clear that other elements were at play as well.

“At first glance, it was very much a genre thriller piece with twists and turns that worked on lots of different layers. But … once we started to unravel who this man was and his past and what he was going through and the nature of what was going on at Shutter Island, it took us to places that there’s no way we could have foreseen.”

Paramount had originally planned to release Shutter Island in the fall, and some critics who saw the film early believe that had the release date not been changed, DiCaprio would have been the actor to beat in this winter’s Oscar sweepstakes. Set in 1954, we first meet DiCaprio, an obsessive U.S. Marshal, en route with his new partner (Mark Ruffalo) to a hospital for the criminally insane, located on an isolated island, to investigate the disappearance of a dangerous multiple murderess from a locked room.

The story, which unfolds solely through the eyes of DiCaprio’s cop, exudes an atmosphere that suggests nothing is quite what it seems, especially given the enigmatic conduct of the institution’s head, played by Ben Kingsley. His criminal investigation, which covers four increasingly ominous days and climaxes in the midst of a Force 5 hurricane, keeps turning up new mysteries and spawning new fears. DiCaprio’s character, emotionally ravaged by the tragedies in his life, finds his investigation is forcing him to confront his own personal demons.

DiCaprio says everyone involved with the production – including Scorsese and the cast – were driven into unexpected, new territory in making this film.

“It got darker and darker and more emotionally intense than we ever expected,” he says. “And that, I think, was the real surprise for us in making this movie.”

Scenes which seemed straightforward in the script assumed new shapes and dimensions once actors started working on them. DiCaprio found himself approaching such scenes with caution: ” … until you’re actually there doing them, there’s really no way to understand it.”

For DiCaprio this was the “best type of movie” to do. “I think we were all surprised at the end of the day. We felt surprised at the depth of the material. It is a thriller in a lot of ways – you know with a surprise ending – and very much of a genre piece, but at the end of the day, it is what Martin Scorsese does best, and that is portraying something about humanity and human nature and who we are as people. That’s what makes it different from being a normal genre piece – to me anyway.”

Shutter Island” is very much a reflection of its era. Cold War paranoia, the traumatic aftermath of the Second World War atrocities, conspiracy theories, the treatment of the mentally ill – all these facets add to the film’s texture. DiCaprio believes the project had an unexpected psychological impact on everyone. He certainly won’t easily forget the experience of actually filming in an abandoned mental hospital or what he heard from mental illness consultants who were on hand as resource people.

“Mental illness … we were around it every day. We were around the dilapidated walls of an old mental institution. We actually had somebody there guiding us through the history of mental illness – the past ways of treating it, the different ways of treating it. There was a tremendous amount of research done on the entrapments of mental illness and the suffering that people needed to go through.”

And always, there was the challenge of his own emotionally troubled character.

“It was like a giant jig-saw puzzle, the more we started to unearth and peel back the onion of who this guy was and what happened to him in the past and to try to understand why he would be so obsessed with this particular case.”

And again, he emphasizes that once everyone was deeply involved in filming, the challenges didn’t become easier.

“We realized we had to push certain boundaries that we didn’t think we needed to, and there were a few weeks there that I have to say were some of the most hard-core filming experiences I’ve ever had.

“It was like reliving trauma in a way. It was pretty intense. I don’t say that stuff very often because – you know – it always sounds superficial when you talk about it in reference to moviemaking … but it really went to places that, in unearthing who this man was, I didn’t think it would get to.”

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service


Shutter Island

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Shutter Island DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster - Style A

Release date: Friday February 19, 2010
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Director: Martin Scorsese
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Screenplay: Laeta Kalogridis
Producer(s): Martin Scorsese, Arnold Messer, Mike Medavoy, Brad Fischer
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow
Official Site: shutterisland.com
Rating: This Film Has Not Yet Been Rated
Available film art: Shutter Island movie posters

Synopsis
It’s 1954, and up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Shutter Island’s Ashecliffe Hospital. He’d been gunning for an assignment on the island for reasons of his own—but before long he wonders whether he hasn’t been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister.

Teddy’s code-breaking skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals “escape” in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues proliferate, Teddy begins to doubt everything—his memory, his partner, even his own sanity.

Based on the novel “Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane.


 
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