Saturday, February 20, 2010

Review: "Shutter Island" 5/5

About 20 minutes into Martin Scorsese's latest film, "Shutter Island", I completely forgot that Scorsese was directing it. The rest of the film felt like Alfred Hitchcock had come back from the dead to direct the film. In other words, the spirit of Hitchcock is alive and well in "Shutter Island", a film that would have made the master of suspense proud. Simply put, the film is one of Scorsese's finest and most unrestrained films. At once, it's accessible to mainstream audiences and a cinema lover's dream. It's also the darkest film in Scorsese's career.

The storytelling is brisk, fast-paced, and thoroughly gripping. You'll be sitting on the edge of your seat the entire time, which is saying a lot considering the 2 hour 18 minutes running time of the film. Not once did I feel the length of it. In fact, by the time the film reached it's shocking climax, I wanted more. A day later and I already want to see the film again, just to look for clues and details I might have missed the first time. In keeping with the best of the genre, "Shutter Island" is all about mood, atmosphere, and suspense. In fact, it represents a watershed moment for horror and psychological thrillers, standing head and shoulders above any film in the genre release in the last decade or two. But what makes the film so great is not the scares, but the chilling atmosphere of the film. From the start, you get a sense that Shutter Island is like a living haunted house, an organism of it's own. And things only get more creepy from there. Scorsese must have watched a lot of Hitchcock and Robert Wise to get a sense of where he wanted to go with this film. But that's the beauty of the film. It's doesn't go for cheap shock-value scare tactics.

It's an extremely violent film, but the violence is all part of the context of the film. It's intellectual, it serves the story, makes us really feel the sense of paranoia and terror that is so clear on the face of Leonardo DiCaprio, who gives one of, if not the best performance of his entire career in the film. He is at once terrfying and terrified. It's a difficult role, one where an actor must be clenched from the beginning, much like Al Pacino in "The Godfather Part II".

On the technical side of things, the film is literally perfect. Everything from Robert Richardson's gorgeous cinematography to Dante Feretti's spooky set design to living legend Thelma Schoonmaker's startling and masterful editing is all top notch. Scorsese's direction is superb. An extended nightmare sequence is the stuff of any film lover's dreams.

I've been saying it for years, a great film is a great film is a great film. "Shutter Island" is one hell of a great film from cinema's greatest living filmmaker. In fact, I'd argue it's Scorsese's finest film since "Goodfellas". Do yourself a favor and see this movie if you have any love for movies at all.


Sales on Film said...

Darker than Taxi Driver? Dude, seriously? Shutter Island has a semi-happy ending, at least (DiCaprio's character gets his peace at last) but Taxi Driver is bleak as hell, as are The King of Comedy and even After Hours, a comedy, is considerably more nihilistic than this film.

Kevin K. said...

I don't know about that. I would argue that that semi-happy ending occurs in Taxi Driver, rather than Shutter Island. In the end of Taxi Driver, he's still fucked up, but he ended up being called a hero by the papers. Things (kind of) worked out in the end. In Shutter Island, he may have been given peace, but it's at the cost of being lobotomized! How much fucking darker does it get? I thought the whole film was incredibly dark and disturbing, especially in the final flashback scene. Michelle Williams grinning all possessed-like and saying "My school is." had to be one of the most disturbing things I've seen in a while in a film. Also, the references to the actual corruption in the mental health society of the US during the Cold War were very dark and disturbing, because that kind of thing is still theorized to have happened. I guess I didn't try as hard to figure out the mystery ahead of time like everyone else, because everyone seems to want to complain about the predictable ending. How is it predictable?

Kevin K. said...

P.S. the more I think about this film, the more I want to discuss it, so I'll be posting further thoughts tomorrow.

Sales on Film said...

Well, in terms of Taxi Driver, here's how I see it: Yes, Travis is glorified as a hero at the end but that in itself is a damnation of society at large, because of course we the audience know he is a dangerous psycho but he's able to hoodwink everyone else into thinking he's a hero. So, it's not only a depressing and bleak movie in terms of character and atmosphere, but in terms of political/social commentary as well.

As for Shutter Island, although there are hints at Cold War and US Government conspiracies, these aren't born out by the narrative because of course it's all in Leo's head. In terms of the story and the timeframe (the 1950s) there was little science and medicine could do to help him. At the end of the film, Leo recognizes he will never not be tortured by his demons and chooses to get lobotomized and find some peace. Ben Kingsley and the psychiatric field are really the good guys, the compassionate guys who are trying to help Leo the entire time. So, even if the ending is semi-dark, it's not an indictment of societal structures as much as Taxi Driver (or even After Hours) is.

However, I could not agree more about Michelle Williams. She was so good. Definitely turning into one of the best young American actresses.

To answer your question, the ending was predictable because it's a very very common conclusion in this type of psychological thriller. It's the "it was all in his head" cliche. Like Secret Window or any number of similar films. However, I thought the film did a good job of bringing in the emotional element to the end of the film to kind of undercut the knee-jerk reaction audiences usually have to that kind of "twist" ending.

I think I'm going to write a piece on Shutter Island/The Haunting as soon as I'm finished with my Inglourious Basterds series.

Kevin K. said...

Interesting thoughts. I hadn't thought about the scocio-political implications of Taxi Driver before, because Travis Bickle is such a goldmine of character study its hard to focus on anything but him in the film.

I'm doing a collaborative piece on dissecting and analyzing Shutter Island, because I think there is so much subtext and nuance going on that it's worth looking into. For my money, Shutter Island may just be Scorsese's finest film since Goodfellas, narrowly surpassing The Departed and The Aviator for me.

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