DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Shutter Island

Thursday 10 June 2010

Shutter Island

Shutter Island (2010) dir. Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo Di Caprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams


By Alan Bacchus

Despite the opinions of some people who claim this film as a masterpiece (inc. my colleague Blair Stewart who posted the first review HERE) It pains me to give such a low rating to Mr. Scorsese, but other than the abominable New York, New York, Shutter Island is his worst film – an overwrought melodramatic stink bomb, one giant red herring much less clever than it thinks it is.

NOTE: I write this review assuming everyone has seen the movie...needless to say SPOILERS are ahead.

Shame on Marty for stooping so low as to use easy ‘shock’ images of dead children and the Holocaust in the same film. When you strip away Shutter Island, there’s actually nothing going on, and no suspense whatsoever, and so it takes flashbacks to dead children and the Holocaust to provide the meat. Except these moments are not earned by Scorsese because they are parachuted into the script instead of organically fusing itself into the narrative.

For example, Leonardo Di Caprio is crazy, and so since his past is only told to us in brief flashbacks absolutely anything could have happened to him to cause this insanity. Lehane/Scorsese choose two traumatic events – witnessing the Holocaust and having his equally crazy wife kill her own children. This is certainly enough trauma to cause his insanity, but without knowing the character beforehand, seeing how his relationship with his wife could have progressed to the point of her killing her own kids, it feels false and unearned.

Of course my discontent with this film is fundamental to the point of the story. If you can't accept the 'twist' the movie fails. For two thirds Lehane and Scorsese proceed to lay the groundwork for the investigative potboiler of US Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner searching for a missing patient by the name of Rachel Solondo. It’s a rather brooding procedural filled with numerous mysterious details such as cryptic messages on scraps of paper, shifty-eyed administration staff who appear to be hiding information, a mysterious government communist conspiracy, etc.

Then at the two thirds mark the rug is pulled out from under the audience to reveal a completely different journey – that Daniels, is not a Marshal, but a patient of the facility going through some experimental role playing game monitored by his Doctors. Upon first viewing the bombshell didn’t so much shock me as stab me in the back for reversing everything I had invested in the characters in the first place. The twist essentially renders everything before it null and void. Therefore, if you don't accept the twist upon second viewing, the experience of watching this ruse play out is even worse. The twist reveals a number of gaping plot holes which become even more frustrating the second time 'round.

Are we to assume Mark Ruffalo was ‘acting’ the entire movie for the benefit of Daniels? Same with Dr. Crawley and all the other staff?

How did everyone keep a straight face? Was there a group meeting where the other staff members laid out this elaborate game?

And shame on you Marty for resorting to the laughable ‘word jumble’ in the third act to convince us the Leo is crazy. The moment Kingsley reveals the conveniently laid out white board word scramble of Andrew Laeddis – Edward Daniels reduced the film to a notch barely above Hardy Boys or the Da Vinci Code. These cheap tactics might have worked if there was any sense of humour in the picture, unfortunately it's so heavily handed its ultimately a dead weight.

There’s even little in the way of technical flare to entertain me, nothing of the authorship which earns the title 'A Martin Scorsese Film’. Even Robert Richardson’s photography which sparkles with colour and glossiness is beautiful to look at, but too beautiful and has no gothic authenticity.

Shutter Island is Martin Scorsese light, a phoned-in performance from Marty and a stain on his filmography.

Shutter Island is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment


Alex C. said...

I agree with your perspective to an extent. I thought that Dennis Lehane's book was an "overwrought melodramatic stink bomb" and that Martin Scorcese essentially took that pile of crap and sprayed it with Febreze. It's still crap, but at least it's not completely malodorous.

I enjoyed some of Scorcese's techniques, such as intentional continuity errors that hinted at the fact that our protagonist was not all there. However, you are correct in saying that the twist essentially ruins everything that the story built up.

Mark A. Fedeli said...

when Scorsese's films fail, it hurts more than most. so i tried extremely hard to convince myself that i liked this, but despite a few lovely hitchcockian touches that stick in my mind, all mostly in the first 10 mins, i'm at a loss.

agree with most of what you said, Alan. i appreciate some of the classicism Marty was going for visually, but the story, especially the silly twist, left me half expecting Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd to appear at some point.

and few things immediately annoy me more than crap like that letter scramble, which was unnecessary anyway and reached an ultimate low with the whiteboard scene. bush league.

ugh. i'll just stop now.

M. Carter @ the Movies said...

Wow, 1.5 stars -- harsh, but I see where you're coming from. Me, I found that "Shutter Island" had a lot of flaws (including sloppy editing, which "The Departed" had as well in some places) but I still enjoyed the artistry of the film and DiCaprio, Williams and Kingsley's performances. I did miss the soundtrack -- that's one of those things Scorsese is better at than just about any other director except Tarantino.

Alan Bacchus said...

hell yeah. 1.5 stars. Not harsh in my books. On second viewing, especially knowing where the film was headed, i found it almost unwatchable.

I'm also officially sick of Leo being in Scorsese's movies. He needs to do a comedy to lighten up, big time. I can only think of Catch Me if You Can as the only light hearted film he's done.

Greg Klymkiw said...

Alan: Yeah, this picture stinks to High Heaven! I think I mentioned to you that upon my first viewing - due to the cinematic vocabulary Scorsese used in the first ten minutes, I immediately figured out what the "surprise" would be. As the movie unspooled, I occasionally realized I was right as I saw all the details wedged in. I found the proceedings so dull, so downright lugubrious (save for a few delightful flourishes), that I almost wanted to walk out. I didn't. I kept my feet nailed to the floor in order to see how bad the picture would get. As for your assessment of "New York, New York", well, there's just no other way to say it... you're wrong. It's hugely flawed, but it's a picture that keeps getting better with age (the movie's and mine). Watch it in five years, elements of it will jump out like they didn't before. Watch again in ten years, elements of the film might seem too disturbingly real in spite of the artifice. Watch again, after fifteen to twenty years - the flaws will be there, but not as egregious, and what will remain are some hard, sad truths about love and life. It's a great movie.

Alan Bacchus said...

OK Greg. I'll give New York New York another shot.

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way, Alan. I like Scorcese, I like even his most indulgent stuff (Cape Fear, ahem), but the letter scramble was his lowest low (especially when we haven't seen any of these names in print the whole movie). Reminds me of Identity, when we (SPOILERS) find out that all the characters are in the psycho's mind. How am I supposed to continue caring about a story that you've twisted beyond recognition?

Alan Bacchus said...

Good comparison Friar Duck, or even the other Cusack 'masterpiece' 1408...

BTW: Love the username

matt said...

I had read the book prior to seeing the film so I didn't feel as betrayed by the twist. I really enjoyed the mood of the film and the performances (for the most part) and even found myself engrossed at some points even though I knew it was all an elaborate game. I definitely agree that the execution of the anagram reveal wasn't very effective for me and seemed borderline cheesy.