Shutter Island Review

21 02 2010

It’s not The Departed. Now that’s out of the way, we can talk about what a great little thriller Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio made.

I had been looking forward to Shutter Island for months. When they pushed it back last year, I was very disappointed, but I figured it was a play for an Oscar. Well, I hate to disappoint Marty, but this is not an Oscar winner. It’s very good, but it’s also kind of strange. The first thing that hit me about this movie was the music. It really just pounds you, blasting this crazy Hitchcockian duh-DUH! duh-DUH! at seemingly inappropriate times. I eventually saw what Scorsese was doing, trying to put the viewer off their game, because he knows audiences are expecting the music cues to climax with a scare or something, and when they don’t, it’s a weird feeling. If it were anyone else, I would say that it’s piss-poor directing, but Scorsese knows how to play with an audience’s expectations.

The second thing that struck me was the cast. This movie is full of people that you’ve seen in 100 movies, but you can’t remember their name. And they’re all brilliant. It’s like a character actor’s showcase, though I was a bit disappointed that so many of them got only one scene, most notably Jackie Earl Haley and Ted Levine. Haley’s good at playing monsters with a human core, and his scene is really just a chance for him to let loose and go a little crazy with it, and it’s a great performance. Ted Levine plays the warden of the prison on Shutter Island, and his scene with DiCaprio is one of the high points of the film, a tense scene with so much going on underneath the surface, that it seems like a crime that it’s just about the only time he appears in the movie. Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow are excellent as always, honestly I was just glad to see them in something that didn’t premiere on SyFy Saturday (the most dangerous night on television for your sanity and love of movies). Mark Ruffalo is good as DiCaprio’s partner, though I’m ready to see him in a role where his character can’t be described as “affable”. He’s due for a good, dark turn, and I for one am eager to see him pull it off. DiCaprio still looks 15 to me, but he’s a hell of an actor. Any animosity for Titanic or The Beach would be trumped by this movie alone, never mind his previous excellence.

The third and final thing about this movie that struck me was the realization that Marty Scorsese has been watching a ton of Asian cinema. It’s no secret that The Departed was based on the Hong-Kong Thriller Infernal Affairs, and apparently, though Shutter Island is this time based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, he has kept Netflix’s Asian Thriller section on speed dial. This is especially noticeable in the dream sequences, which have a distinctly J-horror feel to them. The dreams and flashbacks are some of my favorite parts of the movie, because they are so different than anything Scorsese has shot previously. They have an ominous, gloomy quality that isn’t usually seen in grimy New York or Boston streets. The whole movie is just permeated with this sense of impending doom, so much so that when the ending came, all I could do was sit there, numb, percolating on what I had just seen. It’s a dark, dark movie, and its twists and turns are just far enough around the corner that you’ll definitely enjoy the ride, even if you figure out what’s going on way early in the movie.

I do highly recommend this movie. It’s not exactly a lark, but if you’re in the mood for a good, meaty psychological thriller with acting that is in a class all its own, you can’t go wrong checking this out.

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

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