Shutter Island

starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, and Ben Kingsley
written by Laeta Kalogridis & directed by Martin Scorsese
Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.

It is 1954, and U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), along with his new partner Chuck (Ruffalo), has been summoned to an asylum for the criminally insane located on a remote island to look into the mysterious disappearance of one of the patients. Soon after their arrival, a violent storm cuts them off from civilization, and as the investigation continues it becomes increasingly obvious that nothing on Shutter Island is as it seems.

From the very first shot, Shutter Island sucks you completely into its world and never lets go. The cinematography, the setting, the costumes, the dialog; everything about this film is flawlessly crafted to create a perfect mood and then to sustain it. Meanwhile, the audience struggles in vain to piece together a carefully-rationed series of clues and avoid entrapment in the weird web that seems to have ensnared the characters. I cannot remember the last time I had a chance to see a suspense-thriller of this caliber.

As with all great examples of the genre, watching this film is not a passive experience. The movie demands that the audience grapple with its mysteries. Of course, being a genre piece, Scorsese is dealing with certain expectations and tropes. The dark, Gothic mood of the film which appealed to me may strike some viewers as totally overblown. Scorsese is hitting a lot of broad, familiar notes, certainly, but in a way that feels natural and justified (I’ll say no more lest I spoil the ending). Besides, anyone anyone who complains about the lengths this film goes to for the sake of atmosphere has forgotten what makes a thriller tick, or never knew in the first place.

Best of all, though, it never feels as though the movie is “cheating” or withholding vital information. Certainly a great deal of faith is required from the audience that all of the disparate elements floating around will eventually come together in a way that makes sense. However, all of the necessary clues are presented (in fact, virtually everything is a clue of some kind); the challenge is to piece them together for yourself before everything is revealed. This is not a film which requires a second viewing in order to make sense (although it would certainly be rewarding), but it does demand full attention the first time through. Hours later, small pieces are still be clicking into place in my mind as I continue to realize just how perfectly constructed the whole thing is.

Although Shutter Island is obviously being billed as yet another Scorsese/DiCaprio vehicle, it has an amazing ensemble cast. Basically every significant speaking role (however small) is filled by a performer that I am delighted to see. I should particularly note how nice it is to see Sir Ben Kingsley, the four-time Oscar nominee and Shakespearean thespian extraordinaire, for once taking on a project that is worthy of his immense talent (having appeared most recently as Guru Tugginmypudha in Mike Myers’ abominable The Love Guru).

In addition to Kingsley (and, of course, Ruffalo), there are also welcome appearances by Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Ted Levine, and Jackie Earle Haley. I don’t want to downplay DiCaprio’s performance, however. Actually, that is hardly possible, as the nature of the narrative demands that he appear in every single scene. This places enormous weight on his performance, and it is only after the story has fully played out that it becomes clear what a subtle, delicate balancing act he has managed to carry off.

When I was a teenager, my favorite movie experiences took place in front of a tense thriller, watched late at night with my brother or a friend. I actively craved, and constantly sought, films that would keep both my mind and my heart racing frantically. These could be difficult to come by with any regularity (particularly in a foreign country), and that often meant relying on Alfred Hitchcock for my fix. I can think of no higher compliment to pay Scorsese’s latest film than to say that it carried me back to that earlier time, and conjured up all of the reasons why I loved the genre so much in the first place.

~ by Jared on February 19, 2010.

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