Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Island Retreat

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island is unlike anything else in his filmography. Based on the novel of the same name by Massachusetts author Dennis Lehane, this psychological thriller is the kind of subject matter we're used to seeing from Christopher Nolan. And the dream sequences are very reminiscent of David Fincher's Fight Club. Scorsese has never done anything as visually lyrical as this before. I'm hungry for more.

Shutter Island follows U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels as he investigates a mysterious disappearance at an isolated prison for the criminally insane. Only as he unravels the mystery, it only seems to become further tangled onto itself.

Perhaps the most impressive thing Scorsese does is drop breadcrumbs about the twist throughout the film. Much like in The Sixth Sense, this means astute film-junkies will figure out the plot twist before it happens. But unlike The Sixth Sense, you won't feel like you're wasting your time watching a movie when you already know the ending.

I love the visual style. It's dark, but colorful. The Aviator meets Pan's Labyrinth, and even a little bit of Inglourious Basterds. Scorsese shot the majority of this film in Massachusetts. However, most of the settings are totally unrecognizable because of some CGI wizardry that stitches together landscapes and buildings to create a beautiful Frankenstein's Monster of a backdrop. The weather, the buildings, the environment reflect the mental state of the main character. Pay attention to their cues.

The acting here is solid, if not a little melodramatic. I want to like Leonardo DiCaprio, I really do, but I have a hard time buying him as a disturbed, world-weary veteran. His face seems young to me. Or maybe it's the fact that he can't seem to express mature emotion in roles. I really feel the strongest thing he's ever done is Basketball Diaries, a close second is The Aviator, but that was more imitation than creation. I also liked him in The Departed, Gangs of New York and Inception, but mostly because I felt that his characters were somewhat emotionally stunted. So his adolescent emoting didn't bother me as it seemed appropriate. But in Revolutionary Road, and in Shutter Island, they seem tedious. They seem forced. He is acting. Leo lacks the ability to disappear into a role, but I give him credit because he tries so damn hard.
Perhaps his shortcomings wouldn't be so obvious if it weren't for Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams (who knew?!) and Ted Levine so frequently upstaging him in this film. Ted Levine had a short but amazing scene with Leo. He plays the sinister warden, and his subtle yet powerful performance stole the movie for me. With turns like this one and Silence of the Lambs, I cannot understand why Ted Levine got strapped into "Monk" for eight unbearable seasons playing second fiddle to Tony Shaloub (who was way better in Men in Black than he ever was in the TV show he's won three Emmys for). Mark Ruffalo is stellar, as always, and Ben Kingsley turns out this movie like a seasoned pro. Michelle Williams is a pleasant surprise. She is perfectly fragile, like a piece of glass, so thin and full of cracks you're afraid to touch it. Hers was a role that could have been overplayed, but she did a beautifully understated performance. I hope to see more from her.

The story is brilliant, and it made we want to read the book. Not since Fight Club have I seen such an innovative and original story brought to life on celluloid. I'm now having wet dreams where Scorsese directs a Chuck Palahniuk novel. Let's make this happen people! I'm thinking Haunted or Diary, what about you?



Ben said...

Ted Levine is awesome. And I'm not afraid to admit that I've seen enough of 'Dawson's Creek' to say that she was one of the bright spots of that cast.

DiCaprio's stock seems to be constantly rising with me.

I figured out where this one was going way ahead of time, like you said, but I still totally loved the movie. I guess the difference for me between this and 'Sixth Sense' is in replay value - I would watch this one again, whereas I feel like once I got to the end of 'Sixth Sense', even as much as I enjoyed it, I don't really ever feel the need to watch it again.

Noel said...

Completely agree. I hadn't re-watched 'The Sixth Sense' until recently, because I finally had forgotten enough about it to want to see it again. But 'Shutter Island' is more like 'Memento' or 'Fight Club' where you just want to watch it again and again and catch every little Easter egg planted along the way.
DiCaprio will get there, I think. As soon as the boyish looks start to fade, that talent will bloom.