Film Reviews

SHUTTER ISLAND

By • Feb 22nd, 2010 •

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DiCaprio memorably transcends Scorsese.

Depicting crazy people is always tough. They never comb their hair and the drugs, instead of making them catatonic zombies, seem to make them don maniacal faces. Didn’t sage Forest Gump say it best – “Crazy is as crazy does”?

With the exception of CAPE FEAR (Martin Scorsese had to follow the original material and De Niro’s pleasure in playing sadist Max Cody brought a strong sexual tension to the thriller), Scorsese is not a director who should be handling the horror genre. What SHUTTER ISLAND is missing is a sexual subtext which adds a potent and horrifying dimension to nightmares.

In 1954, two U.S. Marshalls, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), travel to Ashecliffe Hospital, a concentration camp-like facility for the criminally insane on the remote Shutter Island. They are there to investigate the disappearance of a female child killer, Rachel 1 (Emily Mortimer).

Getting not much help from Ashecliffe’s Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) or Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), Teddy begins to question not only what is going on but why other patients are surreptitiously telling him to “run”.

The only thing a spare-haired crazy didn’t do is smile at Teddy while running her finger across her throat.

As a hurricane approaches and devastates the island making departure impossible, Teddy confides that he asked for this assignment. He believes that his wife, Dolores’ (Michelle Williams) killer is in one of the wards.

And Teddy is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to his participation in the WWII liberation of a Nazi concentration camp. He’s having flashbacks, especially when he intuits that Dr. Naehring is a Nazi doctor brought to the U.S. through Project Paperclip. If it wasn’t for the Nazi doctors operating in the U.S., there would be no LSD-induced mind control experimentation on patients and civilians. The Nazi doctors made lobotomies popular.

The answer Teddy is looking for might be found at the lighthouse, where he is told surgeries on patient’s brains are being done. In the lighthouse he finds badly beaten George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley) who wises Teddy up. Trying to leave the island, he runs into Rachel 2 (Patricia Clarkson) hiding in a cave. By now, he’s totally freaked out!

If director Martin Scorsese is, as has been suggested, honoring Alfred Hitchcock, he’s taken the worst part of PSYCHO – at the end when the doctor explains what happened to Norman Bates – and bogged down SHUTTER ISLAND with a tad too much unnecessary exposition. The denouement is laid out very nicely. Trust the audience – we go to a lot of movies.

Even lousy ones like Garry Marshall’s VALENTINE’S DAY. Clearly no one read the overwhelming negative reviews and gave it a $52.4 opening weekend.

The screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis (from a novel by Dennis Lehane) is paced beautifully, giving DiCaprio a full landscape of emotions to explore. And he’s definitely up to the challenge. SHUTTER ISLAND is all about him and he’s fantastic.

The entire production is impressive though the music (Scorsese and music supervisor Robbie Robertson go back as far as THE LAST WALTZ IN 1978) is intrusive and awful. Scorsese, who by now has a strong relationship with DiCaprio (it’s their fourth movie together and DiCaprio will play Frank Sinatra in Scorsese’s planned bio of the icon), stumbles with the obvious heavy-handed directing. It needed a more intelligent handling and, as I mentioned, a sexual subtext.

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One Response »

  1. God help me from coming back to read these fucking reviews. The sexual subtext stuff is bonkers and you don’t really bother explaining why it needs a sexual subtext. I could forgive this because it is classic Vicky Ax but what I can’t forgive is how much of the movie you spoil. You are a terrible film critic. Don’t worry, this is the last negative comment you’ll receive from me. Continue your madness in peace.

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