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E.C.McMullen Jr.
Shutter Island
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SHUTTER ISLAND - 2010
USA Release: Feb. 19, 2010
Appian Way, Sikelia Productions, Phoenix Pictures, Paramount Pictures
Rated: USA: R

It's rare that I mention the author of a work before I mention the movie it was based upon, but in this case, New York Times best selling writer Dennis Lehane already wrote two other novels that were well received by audiences and critics alike in both book and movie form (MYSTIC RIVER, Gone, Baby, Gone), and has pretty well established his credentials both as a writer and someone whose work translates well to the screen. In this case, SHUTTER ISLAND was a smash in novel and did well as a graphic novel. Dennis also went on to Executive Produce this film.

-And a pretty well pedigreed movie SHUTTER ISLAND is too, with an Oscar winning director like Martin Scorsese (CAPE FEAR, BRINGING OUT THE DEAD) and actors like three time Oscar nominated Leonardo Dicaprio and Oscar Winner Ben Kingsley (SPECIES, A SOUND OF THUNDER).

Rounding out the cast is Max Von Sydow (THE EXORCIST, EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, FLASH GORDON, MINORITY REPORT), Mark Ruffalo (THE DENTIST), Patricia Clarkson (THE GREEN MILE), Jackie Earle Haley (WATCHMEN), Elias Koteas (APT PUPIL, THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, THE FOURTH KIND), John Carrol Lynch (GOTHIKA) and Ted Levine (THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS).

SHUTTER ISLAND begins on the water as a ferry moves across the choppy surface, storm clouds gather overhead, and DiCaprio's character of Teddy Daniels is puking his guts out. It's not just a case of seasickness, Teddy also has a problem with large bodies of water.

His new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) was just assigned to him for this specific case, which brings them out to a remote island off of Boston, Massachusetts in 1954. They are going to Shutter Island where the worst, most violent criminals are kept in an insane asylum. On this island, which is largely a massive rock jutting out from the sea and virtually cliff on all sides, a patient has escaped. This is so unusual that Federal FBI agent, Daniels has been assigned to find out why and just as important, how.

Teddy and Chuck first meet up with Deputy Warden MacPhereson, who promptly tells them the rules of the island, the institute, and confiscates their weapons. There are no guns within the prison gate of Shutter Island. Teddy and Chuck don't like it, but they don't have jurisdiction over a federal Warden.

Soon they are walking past the various denizens of the hospital who seem to be relatively calm, though their physical scars and ticks suggest something uncomfortable just beneath the surface.

Teddy and Chuck are then introduced to Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). From him they learn that the patients of Shutter Island - the worst of the worst - are kept under the Doctor's radical treatment which consists of making them as comfortable and calm as possible under the circumstances. The Doctor is attempting to create an environment where the loonies can live among each other without butchering each other. Those that can't be reached in this manner are kept in the maximum security prison of this maximum security prison, i.e., within actual iron bar enclosed cells in a separate stone building that was once a fortress.

This concept doesn't appeal to Teddy, as he fought in WWII, was there at the liberation of Dachau, and has very set ideas of how people who victimize other people should be treated. Teddy makes his feelings clear to Cawley, but Cawley doesn't care what Daniels thinks, and an unsteady truce forms between the two men. Things don't get any better when Teddy meets Dr. Naehring, who has the aggravating habit of pop-psychoanalyzing people on the spot. The fact that Naehring has a thick German accent only makes matters worse.

Another thing that isn't helping Teddy is his hallucinations of his dead wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams: SPECIES, HALLOWEEN H20, DECEPTION). These aren't presented as memories, but actual hallucinations that pull him right out of wherever he is to a place that never existed. His wife tries to tell him that she's dead and he must let her go, abandon his investigation and escape Shutter Island.

Wait. He's hallucinating? And he's at an insane asylum? And a psychiatrist there is psychoanalyzing him? Oh... NOW I get it...

... and this happens in about the first ten minutes of the story! Scorsese tips his hand and we still have another 2 hours and 8 minutes left.

So begins an unnecessarily twisty and complex investigation into the workings of Shutter Island and the "mystery", that appears more implausible at every step, of how anyone could possibly escape. Yet it's nothing more than a veneer of false complexity over a very simple tale. We may not have all the answers in the first fifteen minutes of the film, but we know the resolution, and all of the switchbacks and dead ends SHUTTER ISLAND explores gets us nowhere. We know we're going through padding and it goes on for the longest freaking time!

Better movies of this type have been around for a while and books of this type have been around even longer. From novels like L. Ron Hubbard's FEAR to various episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE to JACOB'S LADDER, IDENTITY, and so many others. The person who thinks they're uncovering a twisted impossible mystery finds out it all makes sense when...

Well, when it's done well, like FEAR or JACOB'S LADDER, it's a joy to read and watch. But SHUTTER ISLAND wasn't done all that well. Cinematically it wasn't as bad as MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D, but like the majority of Hollywood mysteries about people losing their minds, it wound up in the same place.

For starters, Martin Scorsese rarely tries his hand at Mystery Thrillers but when he does, he drops the ball. CAPE FEAR, as a remake, was saved by the acting of Robert DeNiro - who excels at acting believably weird - and Nick Nolte - who excels at playing characters who are out of their depth and struggling.

BRINGING OUT THE DEAD? I'm still not sure what Scorsese was trying to achieve but it didn't work: not even with a dark script by Paul Schrader.

SHUTTER ISLAND has Horror veteran Laeta Kalogridis (NIGHT WATCH) at the screenplay, but it didn't help. There is only so much mystery here and it didn't take long for me to be pulled away from the over abundance of Teddy's whacked-out and screaming hallucinations and his nightmares and his WWII flashbacks ALL done in time grinding slo-mo that we are shown again and again and again just to fill up a 2 hour and 18 minute movie with a 90 minute story that would have been far tighter and more intriguing, and just plain entertaining.

We KNOW about this. We GET it! There's no more emotion to be wrung from all of these set pieces.

A usually superlative director like Martin Scorsese hardly needs to show off, but he commits a seemingly endless series of "Look at me! I'm directing!" shots that I would expect from a far less seasoned, much younger director, who could be forgiven for exploring style.

What's more, throughout the entire lengthy movie, no suspense or tension is ever built. Long after the first act opening reveal, in the third act, Scorsese throws in three gallons of red herring when Neo meets the mysterious Architect... I mean, Teddy meets the real Rachel (Patricia Clarkson), and we're subjected to a tediously long period of expositional monologue that we feel is almost certainly a ruse by the film makers.

No mistake, Scorsese knows how to get the most out of his actors and everyone turns in a strong performance. Both Martin and his cinematographer, Robert Richardson (BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, KILL BILL [all]), fill every frame with lush, wonderfully composed scenery. The music, however, was over the top in many places, clashing instead of juxtaposing.

When the obvious ending finally does arrive, Martin even felt it was necessary to run a whole long short film within a film explaining everything again. Augh! That would have been really nice had we not been TOLD everything in not one but TWO long expositions. In SHUTTER ISLAND, it's like Neo met the Architect TWICE in the same movie.

Martin Scorsese does drama. He does great drama. Once in a blue moon when the stars are just right, he can even do droll comedy. But he can barely do Thriller, and he can't do Mystery at all. At nearly 2 and a half hours, SHUTTER ISLAND is an hour too long and the best thing I can say is it's beautifully boring. The eventual video of this should have a Director's Cut that is much shorter, not longer.

Two Shriek Girls

Shriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2010 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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