Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shutter Island (Martin Scorcese, 2010)

Martin Scorcese is Martin Scorcese, we all know this. I don't have to go into the fact that he's one of the most popular and influential film makers in the mediums history. I don't have to go into the fact that he's produced some of the greatest films in American cinema's history. I don't have to go into it, but I certain enjoy going into it.

Dennis Lehane has had other books he's written adapted for film. One by Clint Eastwood, who made the heart wrenching and deeply affecting Mystic River, and also by Ben Affleck, whose directorial debut ended up being the superb Gone Baby Gone.

Following the release of Scorsese's The Departed, I'd read that he was going to film an adaptation of Lehane's Shutter Island, I thought it could be extremely interesting. It seemed like a really great pairing of great director and great writer/material.

Shutter Island feels very much like an homage to the classic mysteries Hollywood used to make. That's not a bad thing. Bringing those classic ideas of storytelling and it's elements into modern film making can really be something wonderful. L.A. Confidential, and Brick are two great films, completely different from each other, but both employed classic, old school Hollywood film elements perfectly. Shutter Island really seems like his homage to films like Double Indemnity, Dial "M" For Murder, and even the classic Hitchcock mystery.

The thing that sticks out to me the afternoon after having seen Shutter Island, is that Martin Scorcese seems to be having more fun with making films as he's started to get older. There is something about this film and The Departed that just seem to be lighter and more fun, even though the themes are still darker and more adult, they aren't quite as dour and melancholic as say, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, or even Gangs Of New York. There is an energy here that really comes through as infectious and entirely enjoyable.

If you're not aware already, Shutter Island begins with Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo playing U.S. Marshall's charged with investigating the disappearance of a patient from a federal asylum for the criminally insane. The asylum happens to be on an island, Shutter Island, shockingly. Ben Kingsley plays the doctor in charge of helping DiCaprio and Ruffalo get all the cooperation they need. Max Von Sydow shows up twenty or so minutes in, playing Kingsley's superior, which was a great surprise for me. If we as film fanatics were to begin canonizing film saints, I'd be rooting for Max Von Sydow as the first. I'm not a "hey, I need to collect every single one of this actors films in every format it's ever been released" kinds of guys, but I would go buy a ticket to any film, simply because Max Von Sydow is in it. Anyway, that's the mystery the film begins with, and the what takes us into the strange and unsettling world of Shutter Island. Being that the film is a mystery, I'm not going to say too much about the plot because half the fun is figuring it out along the way.

I was going to say this might be the closest thing we'll ever get to a Scorsese horror movie, but Cape Fear was pretty close as well. Interestingly enough, even though there are some heavy, and potentially distressingly disturbing elements here, he manages to play them just right so the film isn't wallowing in those things, it's just presenting them to you as part of the story. This could have been a much darker, much more bleak, nihilistic kind of film, and in other hands that's just how it may have ended up, but it's balanced perfectly.

This is a tightly wound story, all the elements of which are played perfectly in their time and tone. It goes for the gusto in all the right places and is more subtle and reflective in the few places that are really necessary. It seems one of the positive things about being American cinema's premier auteur is that when you ask someone if they want to be in your movie, no matter who they are, they say yes. This cast is stacked with top notch talent, not just A list actors, but really talented people who are at their best. Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Max Von Sydow are all wonderful to watch as men in the midst of a mental chess game, each pair suspicious of the other. That's to be expected though, even Ruffalo , who for whatever reason hasn't had his real movie star, break out role yet, is an extremely talented actor you can count on putting in a strong performance. You can count on any of these actors carrying an entire film by themselves, here, they get to play together. It's great.

It also has a full cast of supporting characters and actors who are intensely interesting to watch and who put in some really great performances. Ted Levine (formerly Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs, currently on the television show Monk) shows up as The Warden, and with a few lines proves he's one of the most underused and under rated actors in Hollywood. Emily Mortimer and the incredible Patricia Clarkson show up in small but pivotal roles and knock it out of the park. Elias Koteas puts in a quick appearance as an especially creepy individual. Michelle Williams once again proves some serious acting chops as DiCaprio's wife, and Jackie Earle Haley continues his streak of strong performances in slightly odd roles. You're going to recognize many of the people in this film, and having seen it through to the end, I think that's something Scorsese chose to do purposely.

The editing and direction aren't quite are more conventional here than most Scorsese films, which for the material, and as an homage to an earlier era of film, works extremely well. There are some more stylistic moments, but given the story and character elements involved, they are perfectly rational, sensible and probably couldn't be accomplished in any other way. It's not done in the same style as a Goodfellas or The Departed with very stylistic cinematography and editing or even Raging Bull which almost took realism to an extreme. This is what a Martin Scorsese fever dream would be like if it followed the central narrative of an old school, classic mystery film. It's beautiful to look at, shot and lit in that kind of classic Hollywood beautiful way. When it's released to the home video/theater (what do we even call that nowadays?), I'll definitely be picking this one up on BluRay. This is the kind of film I want in Hi-Def.

This is the rare film I can recommend to basically everyone. If you have even a passing interest in film, you're going to enjoy this movie. If you have a real passion for film, you're going to enjoy this movie. If acting is the thing that brings you to a theater, it's here. If directing is the thing you look to see, it's here. This is great movie making and vintage Scorsese, at a time in his career when he really seems to be in love with what he's doing. Go see it. If you're going to the movies at any point in the near future, this is the one. If you're sitting at home watching crappy TV after work one night this week. Do yourself a favor and at least go get some of the real deal, gourmet good entertainment for yourself. What I'm saying is, don't miss Shutter Island.

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