Saturday, July 17, 2010

Shutter Island

Directed by Martin Scorsese.
2009. Rated R, 138 minutes.
Leonardo DiCaprio
Mark Ruffalo
Ben Kingsley
Max von Sydow
Jackie Earle Haley
Michelle Williams
Emily Mortimer
Patricia Clarkson
Ted Levine
John Carroll Lynch

It’s 1954 and federal agent Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is sent to Shutter Island to investigate the escape of a patient from the mental institution. Actually, that’s redundant. The entire island basically serves as the mental institution. We learn that it’s where they keep the criminally insane. Though the faculty seems to want the issue resolved, they put up various walls of resistance. Our hero is having a hard time getting results.

Agent Daniels also has ulterior motives. It seems he’s had prior dealings with a mysteriously inconspicuous patient and is quite suspicious of what might really be going on in this remote location. He vows to his partner Chuck (Ruffalo) to get to the bottom of things.

As we follow the proceedings, we’re sucked in and wondering how our hero is going to save the day. We get hints along the way that saving the day may be impossible. We can eventually guess where this is all going. That’s normally a death knell. Here, it’s fine because it does something lesser movies don’t. It defiantly straddles the fence, not choosing either of the two possible outcomes it gives us. Neither is very pleasant. Yet, we still feel the need to decipher what we’ve seen, trying to extract the film’s truth. To be, or not to be really is the question. Supporters of both will have plenty of evidence to support their interpretation.

Once again teaming up with director Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio turns in another great performance. For Scorcese, it’s a departure from the norm. This is no gritty urban crime drama, but his storytelling is as effective as ever.

The drawback is that it runs too long. There is a scene in which the movie climaxes by giving us the two options to decide between. The next two or three minutes flesh out one of them. If the Coen Brothers had directed this, it would’ve ended right there, probably without those few minutes but abruptly stopping right when…I’ll let you see it. Scorcese drags it on too long after that, almost explaining too much.

“SI” is a top notch psychological thriller. It diminishes its own predictability with a heavy dose of ambiguity. It also plays with our heads by using lots of smoke and mirrors, but in a good way. This isn’t your uncle pulling a penny out of your ear, it’s a really slick sleight of hand David Blaine would be proud of.

The Opposite View: A.O. Scott, New York Times

What the Internet Says: 8.0/10 on (7/16/10), 67% on, 63/100 on


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