Film Review: SHUTTER ISLAND

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay), Dennis Lehane (novel)
Release Date: Feb 19th, 2010
Running time 138 minutes

I gotta say, I wasn’t all that excited for this movie. I loved the book and Scorsese is my favorite living director, but the trailer thew me. I mean, having read the book I knew how it was all gonna end, but I’d talked with a number of friends who hadn’t read the book and they could tell from what the trailer showed what the twist was. You shouldn’t need a goddamn spoiler alert for a trailer, but that’s the name of the game I guess. But come on – letting folks know what they’re getting is one thing, but letting them know how the fucking movie ends is something entirely, stupidly different.

Having just caught it, I’ll say even if you can tell what the twist is, you should catch Shutter Island toot-sweet.

For those who haven’t read Dennis Lehane’s kick ass novel (or spied the spoil-tastic trailer, I suppose), let me get you up to speed on what this shit’s about.

It’s 1954 and Leonardo DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal sent to Shutter Island, a maximum security asylum for the criminally insane, to find an escaped patient. Teddy and his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), go around the ward interviewing patients, orderlies, doctors, guards, and nurses in an effort to find out what has happened to the missing woman, but soon realize that everybody’s answers are heavily rehearsed. Also, the prison medical director Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), seems intent on thwarting the investigation at every turn. And then…well, fuck it. I’ve said enough. Dudes on a creepy island looking for a missing girl. Good enough for government work, far as plot teasers go.

First off, this beast is wonderfully cast. DiCaprio brings his usual anguish to a hyper-anguished role, bringing you into Teddy’s head damn near instantly. Mark Ruffalo’s Chuck is a perfect foil to the intense Teddy, a fun, affable presence to tamp down Teddy’s rage. Ben Kingsley’s Dr. Cawley is able to translate a sense of menace under an exterior of helpfulness that is pitch-perfect. Many great actors like Ted Levine, Jackie Earl Haley, Emily Mortimer, and Patricia Clarkson leave strong impressions with their one-shot interview scenes with Teddy. Then there’s John Carrol Lynch (Zodiac, Norm from Fargo) just being reliably awesome. In other words, everybody acted the shit out of this one.

Scorsese keeps the pace crazy fast and the images haunting, especially in the flashbacks and dream sequences. Teddy is haunted by what his experiences as a G.I. coming across Dachau, both by what he saw and did there. A scene where the G.I.s gun down a bunch of Nazis is absolutely thrilling. Then there’s all of Teddy’s nightmares about his dead wife (the always awesome Michelle Williams), which make your skin no-shit crawl. Scorsese is having a ball with the pulpier aspects of the story and it truly shows. This is as close to a horror film as he’s likely to ever direct, and he attacks the blood-and-guts shit with gusto.

This film will probably be lumped in with Cape Fear as one of Scorsese’s more straight-up genre exercises, and such a comparison is fairly apt. But where Cape Fear devolved in the end into a near parody of thrillers, Shutter Island manages to rock you emotionally instead of making your eyes roll. The ending will make you sick…in a good way.

But for all my love of the pulpier aspects of this story, I’ve talked with numerous people who were turned off by the pulpiness of the film. I don’t think it’s wise to go into Shutter Island expecting an exciting-yet-authentic Scorsese film like Raging Bull or Goodfellas. I felt that from the first scene you know you’re getting a heightened reality, a throw-back to old film noirs only handled in a more extreme way. Apparently, some folks didn’t catch that and were thrown big time. The way to get into Shutter Island is to think of it like one of those crazy-ass Korean thrillers that we’ve been seeing lately. Think of the hyper-opera of something like Oldboy rather than, say, the grittiness and authenticity of The Wire. Embrace the pulp!

But like I said, even if you can’t get behind certain parts of Shutter Island, you certainly won’t be bored. This shit is visceral, dark and oh-so-exciting. Guaranteed.

The Nerd of Noir is a blogger living in the Twin Cities. His reviews of crime and noir fiction, film, TV, and comics can be found at bscreview.com or at his blog proper, http://nerdofnoir.blogspot.com/ . He’s a movie freak in general and is constantly giving 140 character reviews of every damn thing he sees on his twitter page, twitter.com/nerdofnoir . Apparently, the Nerd of Noir is also a blatant self-promoter. His real name is arguably Pete Dragovich.