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Archive for March 22nd, 2010

Shutter Island

Having won an Oscar for The Departed (2006) what would Martin Scorsese’s next project be?  This isn’t what I expected.  Adapted from a 2003 novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island is a drama/thriller bordering on a psychological horror.  US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to an asylum for the criminally insane to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a patient.  Along the way Daniels feels his investigation is being hampered by the staff of the facility including psychologists Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Naehring (Max von Sydow).  It also soon becomes clear Daniels also has his own motives for being there.

Right from the start it is clear there is something wrong.  Parts of the setup just don’t ring true and the sometimes heavy handed and overpowering soundtrack has undertones reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score.  The whole thing is just a little unnerving.  The island setting with its juxtaposition of opulence and decay including an old civil war fort turned asylum all set within beautifully manicured grounds add to the sense of dread.  This won’t be a straightforward investigation.  There are clues throughout the story as to what is going on, most of them you will miss, I certainly did.  There are others that are more overt that you will pick up on, making the twists and turns in the feel natural and believable.

Set in 1954, if ever an actor was at home in a period film it is Leonardo DiCaprio and in Martin Scorsese he has a director able to make a movie that looks like it has come from the 50s not just set there. Quentin Tarantino is well known for borrowing ideas from other filmmakers, but Scorsese is a real student of film.  This is something that really comes out in this movie, there is a real sense of familiarity about the way the film looks without ever looking like a copy of a pastiche of anything else.  There is a scene with a spiral staircase that Big Mike Mendez, The Mad Hatters guest his “Matineecast” (episode 7) compares the spiral staircase scene from The Red Shoes (directed by Scorsese’s friend Michael Powell) while Kim Newman in empire calls the staircase “a dead ringer for the one in Robert Wise’s The Haunting”.  As suggested by The Mad Hatter in the aforementioned podcast, having finally won an Oscar Martin Scorsese is able to get back to Just making movies and stop trying to win an Oscar.  Although the epic The Aviator and Gangs of New York appear to be real Oscar bait I don’t think The Departed was. Firstly I’m not convinced it was as much of an issue to Scorsese himself as it was to commentators.  Secondly if you are chasing an Oscar would a remake of a Hong Kong movie be your first choice.  Whatever the reason The Departed, Shutter Island and Bringing Out the Dead prove what Scorsese can do when he makes an “ordinary movie” He really is the most gifted filmmaker working today.  This is very much a genre piece that comes is only his second attempt at a horror/thriller the other being Cape Fear (1991).  I am reticent to say Scorsese is cutting loose and having some fun as the movie is too dark to considered fun. Whilst not as disturbing it has the same dark tone as Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973).

The cast is brilliant, as well as DiCaprio and Ruffalo (always reliable) most of the other parts are played by recognisable actors including Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson.  There are also memorable appearances from Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas.  Putting a great cast together is one thing but getting great performances from them is another, that is something this movie has no problems with everybody on display is great and some (especially Kingsley) look like they are relishing the roles.  But this really is Leonardo DiCaprio’s show

By the end of the film you realise you have just watched a film that is very different to the one you thought you were watching in the first half and certainly a different one to what the trailer depicts.  This is no bad thing although it may disappoint some viewers.  Ultimately though I think there is just enough ambiguity to satisfy casual observers and film loves alike.

Four Stars out of Five

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