Monday, February 22, 2010

Shutter Island

Much hullabaloo was made over the fact that Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island was moved from a prime, Oscar-bait release date last fall, to the dread of mid-February, typically a place holder month for garbage studio's want to quickly dispose of. Why would the films distributor, Paramount Pictures, make such a move for such a well-pedigreed film. Money? Production problems? The film sucked? Why? Well, after viewing Scorsese's Shutter Island, I don't care, all I care about is the smooth finesse of an amazing filmmaker putting under the spell of submission to his well-polished suspense noir. It may not be an Oscar film, but who cares; it's a spellbinding mystery-- one that has deeper intentions for the more serious moviegoer, but also works a classic whodunnit thriller for the fans looking for genre fun. It may have been old hat for a filmmaker so accomplished, but really who cares: Shutter Island, in the grand Hitchcockian tradition of suspense, is a technically extraordinary piece of pop filmmaking.

Everything feels deliberate in Shutter Island, from the Bernard Hermann-like orchestration, to the camera moves by ace cinematography Robert Richardson (a favorite of both Scorsese and Tarantino.) And sometimes, I strongely think, that when even an untrained eye (hey, I'm no filmmaker) can spot the technical percision of scenes, from the sound to the camera work, to the production; when all these forces come together in a startling and revealing way, it makes for an exciting movie. I believe even the detractors of this film will undeniably say it's a well-made movie. That part is exciting for me as fan, but what else is exciting about Shutter Island is that it's all wrapped up in a question.

The film is exclusively set on an island in Boston Harbor (circa 1954) where a mental instition sits called Ashcliffe. It's like Alcatrax for the crazies. First we meet "duly appointed federal marshall" Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio-- in his fourth outing with Scorsese after Gangs of New York, The Aviator and The Departed) vomiting on a ferry boat; then meeting his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), and right off the bat, there's something off-kilter-- the dialouge is very pulpy, a tad stylized. The frame is foggy. We, with the cops, are being transported into a very movieland experience. But one rooted in historical context, with 50s Cold War era a perfect setting for a film exploring the nature of sanity. All of that plays into Teddy, a vetern of the WWII, still tramuaized. Teddy is also carrying another burden, the loss of wife Dolores (Michelle Williams.) Not giving anything away here; it's all in the first scene of the film.

Once docked on the island, everything is a bit queer-- again playing with Cold War conventions of mind control; even the patients of Ashecliffe seem knowledgable of A-bombs and human experiemention. Teddy and Chuck are there specifically because a patient-- Rachel Solondo, apparently disappeared the night before. She escaped from her locked on the outside, barred-in room, as Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), chief of Ashecliffe describes, "it's as if she evaporated." However, this is only the icing on the cake, and as with, I feel compelled to divulge nothing more of the principle plot, as the twists, and Scorsese's masterful turning of the screw are a real pleasure, one that should be naturally felt and admired, not damaged. The twists have this effect of being predictable and not all at once. There's familiar beats that suspenseful films (even the great ones) take on sometimes, and yet it's all the way it's staged. Like Hitchcock, Scorsese handles some of these turns with great applomb, always keeping the audience one step ahead, and one step behind at the same time. And the delight of Shutter Island, is that this a rare mystery that ends in a mystery. It's far from the director's best, but his slight of hand tricks are just as unnerving as ever.

Technically as stated, the film is amazing from Dante Ferretti's creepy sets, to Richardson's cinematography and Sandy Powell's costumes. All of them are Scorsese vets, and again do ace work. More credit should go to his longtime film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who keep the pace and tone of Shutter Island; I thought the film was a bit too long, but had a great ebb and flow sense. The performances are terrific-- DiCaprio finds the tricky balance of his performance, and plays to that question at the center, without giving an answer. The supporting cast includes Kingsley, Ruffalo, Williams, and etereal Emily Mortimer as the missing patient, and a magnetic Patricia Clarkson (all I will say is that her one scene is probably my favorite of the film.)

A grand thriller, cleverly in classic noir fashion. I likey! B+

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