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Shutter Island

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 02/21/10 18:38:43

"A blast. Scorsese's best in years."
5 stars (Awesome)

Martin Scorsese’s "Shutter Island" is the most bizarrely portentous and overemphatic Hollywood thriller I’ve seen since, well, Martin Scorsese’s "Cape Fear." This one is a lot more fun, though; Scorsese has mellowed since 1992, and this time he wants to mess with our heads, not bash them in.

The movie plays like a loopy fever-dream Scorsese had after a marathon of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Val Lewton’s Bedlam, Kubrick’s The Shining, and William Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration. The officially anointed Greatest Living American Director uses Dennis Lehane’s novel as a gorgeous, elaborate toy, spiked with deliberately disorienting details that will mortify those who love to spot continuity errors (hint: they’re most likely intentional).

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, a federal marshal called to an offshore mental institution to find an escaped patient, is Scorsese’s nod to the archetypal ‘50s gumshoe. Teddy has his fedora, his gun (which he’s obliged to check at the gates) and his Luckies. All he needs is a femme fatale, and during the course of the movie he contends with several. Whether any of them are to be trusted is one of many questions. Shutter Island, like Alan Parker’s Angel Heart, is the ultimate paranoid film noir in which the place itself — which may have devious ways to control minds and alter perceptions — is an illogical hell where nothing is what it seems.

The plot is just a smokescreen, an excuse. Shutter Island not only demands to be seen twice, it demands it at the top of its lungs. DiCaprio, sinking deep into conspiracy theories and chasing down leads that could mean everything or nothing, gives the film a jittery, desperate energy, while Mark Ruffalo, as his partner, accompanies him and looks nonplussed. The movie is an actors’ feast; Ben Kingsley has the plum role of the asylum’s main shrink, who seems to have a good time acting vaguely diabolical (both the character and Kingsley), and people like Max von Sydow (still going strong at 80), Jackie Earle Haley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Elias Koteas and Robin Bartlett pop in for brief, haunting appearances.

Technically, Shutter Island is unimpeachable. It’s the clear work of a master bringing his full game. Like Hitchcock in Vertigo, Scorsese transforms pulp into hallucinatory art; every choice from the color schemes (radiantly shot by Robert Richardson) to the dangerously lulling editing (Thelma Schoonmaker) seems geared towards showing us what it might feel like not only to be on Shutter Island but to belong there. Within the missing-patient thriller framework, Scorsese does some pretty wild and experimental things, stretching his legs, gathering his expert crew to do everything perfectly and, at times, to do everything wrong, on purpose. The excitement is palpable — this is Scorsese’s looney-bin picture, in the grand, shameless, operatic B-movie tradition of Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, and his control is so free and flowing at this point that he makes rich, bountiful cinema out of it.

I’ve run hot and cold on Scorsese in recent years — "The Departed" I found hackneyed and perfunctory — but "Shutter Island" reveals a man who, at 67, still has film in his blood and bones. He throws himself a real party here, complete with the hurricane of 1954 as an apocalyptic backdrop. It’s the first movie in a very long time that I feel a strong need to see again on the big screen.

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