Saturday, June 19, 2010

"Shutter Island" (2010)

"Shutter Island" (2010)
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley and Mark Rufalo
Written by Laeta Kalogridis
Directed by Martin Scorsese

There was a time when I would have sneered at the thought of seeing a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  The hatred I felt toward him regarding his superstar sex icon status after James Cameron's dreadful "Titanic" was pretty intense, blinding me to the fact that aside from a few misfires in the late 90s and early 00s, he's actually quite an actor.

It wasn't really until his recent spate of films made with legendary director Martin Scorsese that it broke through that this isn't the smarmy asshole kid from "Titanic," but now a full blown movie star in the classic sense of the word.  You watch Leonardo DiCaprio and you know, undeniably, that it's Leonardo DiCaprio, and yet he's still a fantastic, powerful performer.  I imagine this is how people watched Bogart movies back in the day, or Hepburn.

Here, DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient at a mental hospital situated on an island in Boston Harbor.  Cut off from the mainland by a storm, Daniels and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) must unravel this mystery which seems more and more dangerous and conspiratorial with each layer they peel back.  Slick genius psychiatrist and hospital administrator Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) seems in their way at every step, but somehow manages to put off an air of being helpful.

All the signs point toward danger for Teddy and Chuck, but Teddy forces onward, desperate to unravel the disappearance of the patient and figure out exactly what is going on at this hospital... and what it might have to do with the man who murdered his wife years earlier.

"Shutter Island" is a slow burn of a psychological thriller.  Trailers and ads for the movie seemed to make it out to be almost more of a horror film, loaded with scares.  Instead, Scorsese and company weave a complicated, dark and creepy tapestry that unravels in a horrifically understated manner at the end.  As the twists and revelations pile on, Scorsese resists the urge to make the whole thing wack out, instead keeping his methodical pace throughout, even in the big reveal climax where the entire movie is laid bare before the audience.  A lesser director might have begun cutting faster, or loading it with dramatic music at key moments.  But Scorsese allows the climax to play out naturally, without a lot of 'standard' film conventions.  The audience is either enraptured by this, as I was, or bored to tears, as I suspect my roommate was.

I think it's easy for the understated nature of the entire film to leave people who aren't willing to put their own effort into watching the story bored.  In this way, it lends credence to a lot of the reviews I've read that put "Shutter Island" as a lesser Scorsese film.  When the climax came around, my roommate mentioned that he was reminded of "Memento," Christopher Nolan's backwards thriller about a man who can't form long-term memories searching for the murderer of his wife.  I can't say I disagree with this assessment of the similarities in terms of the twist itself, but the films in general couldn't be any more different.

I have to give special props to Michelle Williams, who continues to prove (like DiCaprio) that she's a far more capable actress than her beginnings on teen melodrama "Dawson's Creek" would have you believe.  In fact, she might be the single best performer in this entire film, with an incredible portrayal of Teddy's wife, Delores.  She can switch from mournful and loving to a creepy wacko on a dime, and I was absolutely disturbed by each of her appearances in this film - and totally excited to see her again.

As expected, the whole thing is gorgeously photographed.  "Shutter Island" is packed full of great cinematograhy, from the swanky, upscale rooms of Dr. Cawley's home, to the rocky cliffs surrounding the island, to the dingy and dank lower psych wards.  Every shot seems almost lovingly constructed, like the movie wants you to just drink in the visual information it's giving you.  Scorsese isn't afraid to play with light and darkness either, and has a really remarkable representation of a character's migraine that got the production geek in me just grinning.

So you've done it again, Martin Scorsese.  Maybe "Shutter Island" won't go down in history as your greatest achievement, but I enjoyed the hell out of your movie.  I was creeped out, disturbed... and utterly enthralled.