Martin Scorsese, one of the best of the best. If you don’t know his name by now, then you really don’t know anything about film. He has had a countless number of great films, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Departed, Raging Bull, After Hours (those are my five favorite from one to five) and many more. He has revolutionized filmmaking, specifically in the gangster genre, what he is best known for. But now Scorsese is trying for new grounds with Shutter Island, which was [falsely] advertised as a suspenseful psychological thriller, but really is a detective whodunit scenario. But the true question that everyone is asking, is it good?
Shutter Island takes place in 1954 on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. Shutter Island is a mental institution for the criminally insane, and when one of the patients, Rachel (Emily Mortimer) seems to have magically disappeared to U.S. Marshalls are assigned the case, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). And what would any detective or psychological thriller be without, and nothing is as what it seems. Things start to become a little bit fishy around the island and Teddy is starting to think new things about the case. There are many side plots but I’d rather to leave those as a surprise.
There are also a lot of other characters that come into play, such as Ben Kingsley as Dr. Cawley, the head of the Island. There is also Max Von Sydow as Dr. Cawley’s right hand man Dr. Naehring. Plus there are all the patients on Shutter Island, the guards, the orderlies etc. And lets not forget Teddy’s dead wife, who he won’t let go, almost haunts him, she is played by Michelle Williams. So what does it all mean? A not to good film actually.
Martin Scorsese can basically do anything, in the simplest of terms, he’s the man. But he knows this, and that was his flaw. I am sure that he has wanted to make a film of this genre for quite sometime now, but he should have waited for better material. But one thing I must say is that one of the few things that the movie had going for it, was Martin’s direction. He really knows how to speak with a camera, he brings it to life enough were you are intrigued to a certain extent. He also knows how to set the mood. With the very first shot, we get a dark, creepy, ominous feeling. Then the music kicks in and you think you’re in for a thrill ride. I give him props for setting this mood, but the mood was false, so I must take away points. He uses all his traditional shots he’s used before so nothing groundbreaking, except for the dream scenes.
My favorite scene in the film is when Teddy is walking through his greatest nightmares. The scene is quite horrific (not scary) and emotional for Teddy. The reason it works is because of Mr. Scorsese’s talent behind the camera. Martin really let’ DiCaprio shine his star in the scene but the way Scorsese gets in there only inflicts more emotions on you. He follows from the side, from behind, does close-ups, and that swift movement from up to down, down to up, left to right, right to left, just amazing. I am an aspiring filmmaker and this is basically direction porn to me. Scorsese, in my eyes, can do nothing wrong as a director, because this movie is just wrong.
The acting even trumps Mr. Scorsese so you know that it must be good. Leonardo is of course good, when is he not. The only flaw with him is his little Boston accent. At times he can do it pretty well, but at times it gets distracting from his acting, which is not a good thing to happen to a leading man. Leonardo is a pretty well known and respected actor and has collaborated with Scorsese before in The Departed, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, and now Shutter Island. I wasn’t a fan of Gangs of New York but liked the other two, and performance wise, it ranks the same, almost. The Departed was his best, then The Aviator, then Shutter Island, then Gangs of New York.
Leonardo plays the role with great in persistence, which is what the role calls for. His emotions are constantly changing, from incredibly sad and depressed, to angered, to detective mode, to violent. Leonardo can play every emotion with skill, especially sad and depressed. I felt Leo was a real person and not just an actor, and that’s when you know you have succeeded as an actor.
But I can’t forget the supporting cast, but none really are up to par with DiCaprio, because it really is DiCaprio’s movie. Mark Ruffalo does substantial, but nothing memorable. Ben Kingsley is the same as Ruffalo, only better. Kingsley would have these little sections of dialogue that I really enjoyed, and he did them well, just not great. He played a good enough antagonist. Everyone else was just OK, but the one performance I found great was Jackie Earle Haley, a personal favorite of mine. He gives another Oscar worthy performance, even though he was only in it a good 5, maybe 7 minutes. I don’t care though, every time I see Haley in a movie I smile. Haley plays a patient on Shutter Island and he is a very damaged man because of Teddy, ooooo (intriguing…). All the patients really outshine themselves because they can play the crazy so well it’s unbelievable. If these actors were acting live on a stage I would think they were truly insane.
So I make this movie sound pretty good, so why such a low rating? Well we have come to why, the script. This is were the movie completely falls apart. The film was written by Laeta Kalogridis based off a novel by Denis Lehane, author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Kalogridis has only written two other scripts, to two other bad movies, Pathfinder and Alexander, so now I understand why Shutter’s was bad.
It tries to be so many things that it just simple is not. It is not a psychological thriller, it barely works as a detective movie, and it certainly does not work as a conspiracy movie, it’s quite laughable actually. It tries to infuse so many different things that it just ends up muddled and confused at what it’s goal is. It tries to infuse Nazi’s, communism, the cold war, spirits, psychotic people, classic detective movies, and many more things. It started off good as a detective film, and then turned into something M. Night Shyamalan would do, which is a huge insult by the way. But it tried to incorporate Nazi’s communism, and the cold war, and it was completely out of place.
Teddy was in World War 2 and had nightmares about concentration camps and it was completely unnecessary. It took place in the 50’s so that’s why the cold war was mentioned, but it didn’t have to be. Plus the BIG TWIST! Oh boy. The thing that bothered me the most was the fact that the twist was quite obvious. I, and two of the other three people I saw it with, figured it out in the first 30 minutes or so. The fourth person I was with figured it out ten minutes before it was revealed. So basically, we all figured it out with no problem. They give enough hints to the point were it felt obvious. So really the so called “Big Payoff” really was more like, “Well duh”. Plus by that time I didn’t care about any of the characters.
Another big flaw was the fact that scenes just dragged on too long. Literally, every scene in the film could have been cut a little shorter. And because every scene dragged, the movie dragged on and on and on. It seemed a bit longer especially when you know how it’s going to end.
So Shutter Island, is it a failure, no. But the film is strong in a technical way, acting, direction, editing, art direction, but it fails on the story, so much that it’s not worth seeing in theaters. If this was a See it, Skip it, Rent it scenario, I would say Rent it. Shutter Island is not a terrible movie, but it’s not really a good one either.
** 1/2 (out of *****); Rent It