Shutter Island

Marty! You are too old for this amateur bullshit!

I can’t even tell you how excited I was about this movie. A new Martin Scorsese genre flick?! (Dear people on the internet who keep insisting this is Scorsese’s first fright flick: rent Cape Fear. You can thank me later.) The film has a splendid cast, the absolute raddest instrumental soundtrack ever, and oh by the by, it’s directed by MARTIN FUCKING SCORSESE. So what went wrong? Let’s investigate, shall we?

U.S. marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to an institution for the criminally insane, located on a Massachusetts island, to investigate the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando. Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) allegedly try to assist with the investigation, but the marshals find the doctors strangely withholding. As Daniels and Aule learn more about Solando’s disappearance, the situation grows ever sinister and complex, and Daniels’ dark past threatens to interfere with the investigation. As does the giant freaking hurricane that hits the island, disabling the phones and leaving the marshals stranded in the increasingly treacherous surroundings.

Sounds cool, right? The script, by Laeta Kalogridis, is based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name. I’ve actually never read any Lehane, but I think the movies Gone, Baby Gone and Mystic River, also based on his novels, are great stories, and I’d like to check out some of his work. Maybe even the Shutter Island novel, because I WANT to like this story, and my issues with it could be specific to the film adaptation.

Technically, Shutter Island is a marvel. The cinematography and editing are flawless. Sharp lighting and liberal shadows give the film a noir sensibility, even without all the trench coats and cigarettes.

I mean, this isn’t Marty’s first rodeo, ya heard? The man knows how to make a polished film. The rocky vistas, gathering clouds, the looming lighthouse and crashing waves are captured in this sweeping, gothic, Brontë manner that’s pretty much epic. It’s easy on the eyeballs, is what I’m saying.

Scorsese also employs some energetic editing techniques. As Daniel is stranded on the island, he starts suffering fierce headaches and brief hallucinations, violent flashes of color and action that linger like ghost images long after the film has moved on to the next scene. Blood! Nazis! Fire! Wait, Nazis? What?

Michelle Williams plays Daniels’  late wife Dolores. She’s absolutely wonderful, ethereal, a wisp of a memory that brightens the screen whenever she’s on it. All of the performances are magnificent. Leo is always solid, if only sometimes spectacular, and Mark Ruffalo is a dream in this, the perfect wise-crackin’ noir hero. The supporting cast really steals the show, with Kingsley, van Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley (!), Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson (!), and genre ubiquitant Elias Koteas (!!!) all turning in brief but remarkable performances. And everyone’s Boston accents are so cute! “Staahhhm’s comin’.”

It really sounds like I like this movie, doesn’t it? AND YET. It simply does not work. The surrealism of the film works against it in that I’m not invested in all the trickery. The stakes aren’t high enough, and nothing resonates because I find myself thinking, “This isn’t real, is it?” The pacing’s all wrong, too. It’s too long, too slow at the beginning and too fast at the end. The plot is sprawling and disorganized, and by the end the elaborate craftiness just feels tedious and obvious. And in order to fool the audience, at one point a “subtle” “trick” is employed that is identical to a tool I used, no joke, in several of my middle school short stories. Yeah.

Now, one could argue that the film’s only problems are due to the script, and that’s true, but MARTIN SCORSESE CHOSE THIS SCRIPT! So I blame him! Especially because the entire last third of the film can be summarized, Shyamalan-style, with these three words:

And that is not okay.

12 Responses to “Shutter Island”

  1. i loved this review. :)
    i never had even an inkling of desire to see this film simply because it looked too scary for me.
    maybe i’ll see it when it comes out on video just for the heck of it.

  2. Oof. I just felt it was interminable. And I should never be sitting around, waiting for a Scorsese flick to end, you know?

    I’m curious to read the book. I really want to know if it’s the script or the story that sucks.

  3. The first time I saw the trailer I was SUPER pumped, but at the second viewing I was like, “I’m going to be really disappointed, aren’t I.” Then because I didn’t want to be disappointed, I just tried to block everything about this movie out of my head and wait until it came out on video. Now I know that I wasn’t wrong to do so.

    Dear Scorcese, please review your earlier works for inspiration. Remember Raging Bull? Remember that one?

  4. Man, you hit the nail on the head, Marla. “It’s too long, too slow at the beginning and too fast at the end.” I wanted to like this movie so much. There was so much to mavel and yet it just didn’t deliver. Michelle Williams was absoultely beautiful in this and, as the main source of color in this film, I eagerly awaited her return to the screen each time.

    This movie just makes me sad–but not in the way a movie should.

  5. i too was really really hoping to enjoy this movie – but you’re right, it was too slow… i mean REAL slow. that, coupled with the fact that there was absolutely no element of suspense made it just a pain to watch. it’s as if the screenwriter was like “well I guess the world’s just getting stupider – so let’s just tell them the entire plot of the story from the beginning so they don’t have to use their brains and guess what might be happening”

    such a disappointment. michelle williams was certainly the highlight of the movie. oh, and i also wish there had been more than just the 3 seconds of the creepy balding lady telling them to “shhh.”

  6. Yeah, despite having SO MANY perfect ingredients, Shutter Island adds up to far less than the sum of its parts. To the list of awesome moments the movie could have used more of, I would add the entire hurricane-in-a-graveyard sequence, as well as the riding-in-the-jeep-with-the-warden conversation about violence. Both of those scenes were miniature masterpieces, seriously.

    On the plus side, this movie offers further confirmation that Leonardo is not only talented, but finally old (looking) enough to start playing adult, man-type roles. I feel like he’s just now starting out on what will be the best, most interesting part of his career.

    And while I’m disappointed in Scorcese for not making this a better movie, I certainly wouldn’t accuse him of coasting. It was an ambitious, R-rated effort; it just didn’t quite work out this time.

  7. I’ve never been a Scorcese fan, so I’m not really all that disappointed, but I did want to see it because I feel like Leo has been making really good choices the past 5-10 years, so I’m glad you warned me away.

  8. frankly, i’m just relieved that the badness of the movie didn’t tarnish my future husband, mark ruffalo. STAY STRONG SWEETHEART!

  9. Rambo Balboa Says:

    Awesome review. I had such high hopes for this movie!

  10. By the way, you genius, it’s ScorSese, not “Scorcese”… And you call yourself a cinema lover?

  11. All right, super friendly commenter, that’s a fair point. Change made.

  12. Don’t feed the trolls!

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