Saturday, 20 February 2010
FILM REVIEW: SHUTTER ISLAND
As I've stated before, the list of films I should have seen but haven't is a very long one indeed. I am ashamed to admit the list features every film by director Martin Scorsese pre-1990, including Goodfellas. Conversely, I have seen most every Scorsese film since, beginning with 1991's remake of the 1950s thriller Cape Fear, through to his Oscar-winning The Departed (2006).
It goes without saying that I am not a connoisseur of the great American director's work, but nor would I consider my self a fan. An admirer, yes, but not a fan. Age of Innocence (1993), Kundun (1997) and The Aviator (2004) are some of my favourite films of their respective years. On the other hand, I am still trying to figure out exactly why The Departed scored the Best Picture Oscar for that year, other than Scorsese being well and truly overdue.
Perhaps it is this detachment to Scorsese that allows me to approach his latest film, Shutter Island, without any undue expectations but also without the reverence which most critics and film buffs have for the director. For me, Shutter Island, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (of Mystic River fame) was just another movie, one that, like any other, had to impress me on its own merits – and it didn't. And if Margaret Pomeranz (of ABC's At The Movies) and A.O. Scott (New York Times) can be underwhelmed by Scorsese, than so can I.
In 1954, Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are called to Shutter Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando. Solando isn't a islander but a patient of Ashecliffe Hospital, a mental institution for the criminally insane which is the only facility housed on the island. Solando, a woman who drowned her children, has escaped from her locked cell and is hiding somewhere on the remote isle.
Under the watchful eye of the politely menacing Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley), Marshall must try and solve Solando's disappearance while suspecting something much more sinister is at work. He also has to contend with flashbacks to his wartime experiences, where he was one of the first soldiers involved in the liberation of the concentration camp Dachau, as well as contending with his wife (Michelle Williams), who perished in an apartment fire but continues to haunt his waking thoughts.
Shutter Island is described as a genre film, in this instance a horror but not in the slasher sense we have come to associate with the term. The film is very much in the vein of 1950s film noir – an emphasis on creating a forboding mood and more psychological as opposed to graphically violent - with Scorsese's influences here ranging from Hitchcock's Vertigo, to a host of classic films I've either never seen or never even heard of.
That may tickle the fancy of the aforementioned critics and film buffs, but for your average Joe just out for a scary movie, with a high end cast and director as bait, such details are irrelevant. Which isn't to say the film doesn't look great nor that DiCaprio, Ruffalo, and Kinglsey, not to mention Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Max von Sydow, don't deliver strong performances. But while Shutter Island held my interest for its running time it didn't grab me, it certainly didn't thrill me.
And the big twist finale, which I won't reveal and you should try and avoid reading or hearing about, wasn't so much a 'wow' moment but, for me, more of a 'oh, come on!' There are clues along the way that allude to this revelation – and a second viewing will most likely reveal those – but I felt somewhat cheated. And cheating me is no way to make me a fan, Mr. Scorsese.