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Overall Rating
3.98

Awesome44.62%
Worth A Look: 27.69%
Just Average: 15.38%
Pretty Crappy: 6.15%
Sucks: 6.15%

6 reviews, 29 user ratings


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Shutter Island
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Island And The Screams"
5 stars

Martin Scorsese has been directing movies for more than 40 years now, most of that time with the phrase “America’s finest filmmaker” almost reflexively appended to his name, and during that time, he has created a filmography as wide and varied as anyone else currently working today. However, he has never really utilized his talents to make a straightforward exercise in traditional genre filmmaking. Oh sure, he has celebrated such filmmaking over the years via interviews, DVD commentaries and his must-see documentary “A Personal Journey Through American Film” and he has made films that have had their roots in such time-honored genres as the musical (“New York, New York”), the boxing picture (“Raging Bull”), the Biblical epic (“The Last Temptation of Christ”) and, of course, the gangster drama (“The Departed”). In all of those cases, however, he approached the seemingly familiar material in such a deeply personal and detailed manner that the results felt more like examinations of those respective genres as a whole than mere examples of them--even such seemingly direct enterprises as “The Color of Money” and “Cape Fear” transcended their overtly commercial roots and became more than the mere potboilers that they might have been in the hands of virtually any other filmmaker. Therefore, it comes as a bit of a shock to discover that with his latest effort, an adaptation of the 2003 Dennis Lehane best-seller “Shutter Island,” Scorsese has finally made the conventional exercise in genre filmmaking that he has spent his entire career more or less avoiding. And yet, while the notion of trying to paint within the lines of conventional narrative cinema might have stymied most maverick filmmakers, the challenge seems to have inspired Scorsese and the end result is a film that brilliantly balances artistic and commercial considerations in ways that are sure to impress both cineastes and people simply looking for something entertaining at the local multiplex on a Saturday night.

Set in 1954, the film opens with federal marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) setting sail with new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffallo) across Boston Harbor to Shutter Island to Ashcliffe Hospital, a refurbished and virtually impenetrable former Civil War fortress that now serves as a insane asylum that houses 66 of “the most dangerous, damaged patients” around. They are there to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a woman who was incarcerated there after murdering her three children and who appears to have vanished from her locked cell without a trace during the night leaving nothing but a cryptic note suggesting that there is a 67th patient somewhere in the facility. The institution is run by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), a progressive type trying to bridge the gap between the brutal old approach to psychiatry and the new-fangled reliance on heavy medications, and while he is outwardly cordial and helpful to Teddy and Chuck, he refuses to provide them with crucial documents that they need for their investigation. After interviewing various patients and members of the staff, Teddy begins to suspect that they are being sent on a wild goose chase but when they attempt to leave, a massive storm hits the island that makes it impossible for them to leave or contact the mainland.

Clearly, nothing on Shutter Island is as it seems and that starts with Teddy himself. While he may look like the standard tough-talking noir hero on the surface, our first glimpse of him finds him suffering from acute seasickness on the boat to the island, he is haunted by his war experience as one of the soldiers who helped liberate Dachau and the death of his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams) a few years earlier and he also appears to have a secret agenda of his own that has brought him out to Shutter Island in the first place. Of course, that is nothing compared to the secrets and mysteries contained within the asylum--which include the people housed within the feared Ward C, rumors of bizarre Cold War medical experiments and the sudden reappearance of Rachel (Emily Mortimer), a even that raises more questions than it answers--and as Teddy goes deeper and deeper into his investigation, he becomes increasingly caught up in a ever-expanding web of paranoia and eventually becomes convinced that he himself may have been lured to the island under false pretenses and that once there, he may never get a chance to leave.

As with many of his previous films, “Shutter Island” is a way for Martin Scorsese to pay tribute to the films and filmmakers that influenced him at an early age and helped to shape his own artistic sensibilities. In the last couple of years, Scorsese has paid public tribute to famed 1940 low-budget horror producer Val Lewton (the man behind such classics as “The Cat People” and “The Leopard Man”) by producing a documentary examining his life and work and to Italian cult director Mario Bava (“Black Sunday,” “Black Sabbath,” “Twitch of the Death Nerve”) by penning an introduction to author Tim Lucas’ mammoth biography on the man and with this film, he has found the ideal vehicle to celebrate their work in purely cinematic terms. Lewton, for example, never had the budget for elaborate monsters or special effects for his films but they were never missed because he recognized that what the viewer can’t see is often more unnerving than what they can. While money was clearly not an object in this case, Scorsese has largely hewed to that lesson and spends more time creating an increasingly tense and eerie mood through tricks ranging from expressionistic lighting effects to the canny deployment of supporting actors who will set off slight tremors of anxiety in some based on the characters they have played in the pass--what better way to underscore the potential craziness of the hospital than to have Ted Levine, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill from “Silence of the Lambs,” as the warden, John Carroll Lynch--the most likely suspect in “Zodiac”--as his deputy and the ever-foreboding Max Von Sydow as one of the chief doctors. Bava, on the other hand, was an expert in telling strange and hallucinatory stories where the line between reality and insanity was so thin and so blurred that many of the characters themselves were unsure of where they stood and Scorsese achieves that same effect here to the point where even those viewers who are alert enough to figure out some of the big twists early on are still going to find themselves unsure at times as to whether they can fully trust what they are seeing.

And yet, even if you have never heard of the likes of Val Lewton or Mario Bava before (and that probably includes the majority of the potential audience), it doesn’t really matter that much because it works wonderfully just as a simple and straightforward example of storytelling. This isn’t to say that the twists, turns and surprise developments of Lehane’s original novel have been stripped away in order to wrestle it into a conventional and coherent screen narrative. In fact, Scorsese and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis have stuck fairly closely to the book while managing to find a way to translate its complexities into cinematic terms that retain the mysteries without getting bogged down in confusion. For the first hour or so, they slowly and carefully set things up--the plot, the characters, even the locale--so that viewers think that they have a fairly firm grasp of where things stand and what is going on and it is then that they methodically begin to turn the screws until the audience is as discombobulated as Teddy himself. What separates the efforts of Scorsese and Kalogridis from other practitioners of the yank-the-rug-out form of cinema that has become increasingly prevalent in the last few years is that they are at least playing fair with viewers--no matter how outlandish things get, the film maintains a certain internal logic that prevents them from getting too far out of hand. Making things even more intriguing is the aura of ambiguity that permeates the film and forces viewers to remain on their toes throughout--even the seemingly conventional final scene is done in such a way that it raises enough questions to have viewers arguing amongst themselves long into the night.

Although Scorsese is liable to get the lion’s share of the praise for the accomplishments of “Shutter Island,” this is one of those rare films where all the contributions work beautifully. In creating the look of Ashcliffe Hospital, production designer Dante Ferretti has given us perhaps the most forbidding central location for a horror film since the Overlook Hotel. Like the film itself, he is deliberately ambiguous about the layout of the complex and once things grow murkier and murkier, it becomes increasingly difficult for viewers to get a fix on where things are in relation to each other and certain locales seem to expand or contract in size at different points, a subtle but undeniably effective method of putting them in the mind of a character whose point-of-view may not be as reliable as one might hope. Robert Richardson’s cinematography does an excellent job of lending a sense of menace to things that aren’t necessarily menacing at first glance and making the already-menacing things seem downright terrifying. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is brilliant in the way that it keeps the story humming along while still keeping viewers off-balance. Eschewing his traditional soundtrack of rock classics, Scorsese has turned to Robbie Robertson to put together a wonderfully discordant collection of musical cues from the likes of Gustav Mahler, Gyorgy Ligeti, Krzysztof Panderecki and John Cage that will further unnerve viewers. The performances are also top-notch across the board. In his fourth collaboration with Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio is so subtle and effective as Teddy that it is only when you think back later on what he does in the film do you realize just how good he truly is this time around. The supporting performances are just as effective, ranging from the more prominent players like Ruffallo and Kingsley to the stunning single-scene appearances from Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson, about whose contributions I will say no more.

As some of you may recall, “Shutter Island” was supposed to be released last fall and until it was yanked from the schedule at the last minute and given a February slot instead. Because of the high profile of the project and the last-minute nature of the change, many observers began to assume that this was a film that was somehow troubled in the same manner as something like the long-delayed and fairly disastrous “The Wolfman.” Nothing could be further from the truth--this is a great piece of classic filmmaking and unless the taste of the American viewing public has so atrophied that it can longer recognize or appreciate such a thing (always a possibility in a world where nonsense like “Avatar” can make a kajillion dollars), it should prove to be a smashingly effective entertainment for audiences of all types. As far as I can tell, the only difference brought on by the release date shift is that what would have easily been regarded as one of 2009’s finest films is now almost guaranteed, barring a year of unparalleled cinematic riches, to go down as one of the very best of 2010 instead.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19125&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/19/10 00:04:47
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User Comments

11/30/12 roscoe good, atmospheric, but never delivers and there's noi pay off. 4 stars
8/28/11 R.W. Welch Nicely spooky atmosphere, tho a little too labyrinthian. 4 stars
3/06/11 Duke Disturbing Spectacle with a predicatable plot. 1 stars
1/13/11 Monday Morning Shallow story but incredible art direction. 4 stars
11/05/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Strong mystery/drama. Kind of reminded me of Fuller 5 stars
9/16/10 Stephanie This movie was crazy. I feel like I need to see it like 3 times. 4 stars
8/24/10 mr.mike Demands a second viewing. 4 stars
7/20/10 Fred Hollow and ultimately unsatisfying, flat 2 stars
6/11/10 othree Empty, hyped, usual DiCaprio, Wright brothers' flew better 3 stars
5/24/10 Pienaar What the heel did I just see? A total waste of time. 1 stars
3/27/10 yiannisz predictable..overacted..emphasis only on visuals... 2 stars
3/20/10 Langano Very good film. Last seen leaves you thinking. 4 stars
3/02/10 Stanley Thai Scorsese manages to put all of the puzzle pieces together without cheating the audience. 4 stars
3/01/10 NFD Incredible, truly haunting film. Easily better than anything else out there. 5 stars
2/27/10 Brian Mckay Previews gave too much away, ending predictable. 3 stars
2/27/10 Dave Very disappointing. Total crap in fact. 1 stars
2/26/10 SEAN DREAM SEQUENCES JUST PLAIN STUPID! 2 stars
2/26/10 NicoSardonica This film is a mind screw, in the best sense you can imagine. Not for idiots. 5 stars
2/25/10 Rob What came first? The gimmick or the story? 4 stars
2/25/10 Anonymous Horrible trash. Just like your mother. 1 stars
2/25/10 Al The last 1/2 hour makes the first 2 hours nonsensical 3 stars
2/25/10 Chad Dillon Cooper Sort of a remake of "The cabinet of Dr. Caligari". 4 stars
2/23/10 jeff m Way to long, the flash back thing got old fast, not scary at all. 3 stars
2/22/10 Linda Morrison I felt tricked, which almost spoiled an otherwise engaging film. 4 stars
2/22/10 PAUL SHORTT OVERLONG, NAUSEATING THRILLER 2 stars
2/20/10 M Predictable, only downfall. 4 stars
2/20/10 Jeff Best movie I saw this year, so far. 5 stars
2/20/10 amy lockmer the finish left me feeling as though I am still waiting for the ending. 4 stars
2/19/10 Adrian Awesome movie that must be seen twice! Warning: Do not watch on LSD. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  19-Feb-2010 (R)
  DVD: 08-Jun-2010

UK
  N/A

Australia
  19-Feb-2010
  DVD: 08-Jun-2010



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