Shutter Island reviews

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Postby criddic3 » Thu Jun 23, 2011 10:01 pm

Mister Tee wrote:[color=#000000] this era of happy ending or bust, it's rather amazing Scorsese's maintained such a misanthropic outlook.

I disagree that this is a "happy ending or bust" era. Too many movies have it both ways for no reason. The Descent and The New Daughter are two such examples where we get the happy ending followed by the 'fooled you' ending. [The credit for this idea goes to the original Friday the 13th probably] At least in Scorsese's film, you could have fun interpreting what the ending meant. Ever since it came out, people have debated DiCaprio's reaction in that last scene. I liked that. Still, I would like to see more horror or thriller films end with actual happy endings. I used to love watching horror films where you got rattled for 2 hours and then it would end on a 'it's finally over' note. I'm not saying they should all end that way, but frustrating an audience in the last minutes of a movie seems counterproductive in my opinion.
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Postby Sabin » Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:06 am

SPOILERS (I mean, at this point...)

I got into a heated argument with a friend who claimed that he met some person of vague collaborative influence on the film, that those involved wanted to suggest that DiCaprio may very well have been of sound mind and body and everyone around him is purposefully trying to keep him off point. I like that idea but it doesn't hold water. What Shutter Island does a masterful job of doing is suggesting in mood if not text that such a thing is possible. Everyone involved in Shutter Island seems to be halfway rolling their eyes at this material and imbuing an ambiguity into a text that it flat-out does not support. The result is watchable and fascinating. To view Shutter Island for the first time is to ask yourself "All right, clearly A, B, or C is at play." and to get to the end is to say "Well, it turns out it was D, but that's so darn close to B and C that I almost wish it were one of them."

To watch Shutter Island a second time is interesting because there is so much narrative fudging at play to keep the audience off-balance. I have no idea how half this movie is happening. To say that it's a B story given A treatment is overselling the story and understating the treatment. Watching Shutter Island again, I was amazed at how Scorsese uses every glossy faculty that he has. He's not simply directing the hell out of this story. He's manipulating the audience in grand form. It's a strange bird of a movie, one that can't decide if it's a film, a flick, or a fluke. There are visions of the Holocaust that I haven't seen on film yet, one that dares to create something graceful of it, and a vision of paternal loss that might be one of the rawest moments of DiCaprio's career, and likely the most emotional scene (with DiCaprio and his family at the end) that Scorsese has directed in over a decade and a half. And yet, these scenes of incredible artist intent are at the service of a story that has Saturday Afternoon Television all over it.

But it's the flukiness of it that endures. Scorsese has spent the past decade reshooting films on wobbly ground. Gangs of New York was shot and reshot, as was The Departed. If The Aviator was an easier time, it was an aimless venture. Shutter Island has the feel of a movie that never seems to know exactly what it is...and it's kind of thrilling because Scorsese is using that uncertainty to keep the audience off-balance. I don't think that makes it a great film or at times a good film because Lord knows it's not an especially good story, but it is certainly an engaging one.

I admire how Leonardo DiCaprio has survived Titanic. At this point, he can be considered one of the most bankable stars in the world. He's becoming a somewhat tiresome presence on film, but he dives into Shutter Island like very few films. He is quite good here and gives the film exactly what he needs. To contrast his constipated turn in Inception, he seems like he's just running around shitting everywhere. Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley are a lot of fun in this film, the former being quite uncomfortable with this experience and the latter kind of enjoying it for purposes of his own pontification until the end where he almost seems like Will Ferrel doing Alex Trebek. Everyone else in the cast has fine moments of ham and perturb. But getting back to DiCaprio, it's time for he or Scorsese to part ways. There's nothing more one can really do for the other because the filmmaker is all tricks and the actor is really just one. Trick, that is. He does his coiled, raw nerve thing, sometimes shaven and sometimes not. He's given two of the best performances of his career for Scorsese (The Departed, Shutter Island) and two that overreaches ignobly (The Aviator, Gangs of New York). They need to quit with the breaks.
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Postby Sabin » Fri Apr 16, 2010 8:46 pm

When you have a story, you get Michael Ballhaus. When you don't, you get Robert Richardson. Contrast Goodfellas with Casino. His collaborations with Ballhaus tend to be more narrative driven whereas that with Richardson tend to be more episodic. Maybe if Gangs of New York had been shot by Robert Richardson, it would have made for a more evocative experience. Certainly it needed more of the visceral pull of Shutter Island than the muddy imagery present. The Aviator is a DI-extravaganza, but it certainly isn't much of a story. Neither is Shutter Island. I knew at all times that the twist would be something like what it ended up being. I wasn't clear though. It felt intentionally straddling hallucination and put-on, so I couldn't really get my bearings. I didn't want to though. And I'm glad I didn't, because once the pieces fall into place, I immediately lost interest. I think he really could have handled the ending a lot better because I did not care an iota.

Maybe Scorsese didn't either. Shutter Island fails as a story. Far too many revelations are about names that meant nothing to me, and about emotional baggage that felt pat and underdeveloped. And they were all elicited by faces (Haley, Mortimer, Clarkson) that were mostly seen once, so they carried little weight. But Shutter Island succeeds as a series of gorgeous (ly weird) scenes. The hallucinatory nightmares themselves are themselves rather uninspired but little touches brought me in, like a cigarette un-smoking itself. Much of the scenes felt like performers doing things backwards and then the action was reversed, creating an intensely eerie dreamlike feel. The notions of the scenes themselves didn't bowl me over but the feverish, almost erotic pull of them did. Scorsese is a pirate, plundering this material for all it is worth, for riches and as an excuse to indulge his whims. And I'm all right with it. Shutter Island is an excellent terrible movie. In the hands of anybody else, it would doubtlessly be the worst film of the year. But the cinematography, art direction, and sound design are just amazing. Said one-scene wonders all do very good work, especially Emily Mortimer whose scene with DiCaprio had me squirming a fox-trot around the cushion of my seat. It doesn't work in the best way.

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Postby Mister Tee » Sat Apr 03, 2010 9:01 pm

The advantage to having read Lehane's novel is, I'd already lived through the "Oh, no -- not THAT ending again" letdown, so for me the film was more about Scorsese's handiwork and the performances. On that score, I think things went mostly well, at least until the final 40 or so minutes. A pleasing (almost amusing) gothic tone is set right from the opening, with fog and creepy music and ominous sets. (Despite this being a period film, it's not the sort of ostentatious design that normally gets Oscar nominations, but I think Ferretti's work is an absolutely essential element -- every single location feels exactly right down to the smallest detail) It also almost seemed Schoonmaker was trying to signal right from the start that something was amiss -- some of the shots seemed to not quite match, but in a way that felt deliberate, which kept me off-kilter. And the story started rolling forward quickly, with one good actor after another taking the screen and making the most of what the screenwriter'd given him or her. So, so far so good.

My problems started after Ruffalo and DiCaprio split up; the scenes began to feel aimless as Leo wandered here and there on instinct (even when the scenes were well written/performed, as Clarkson's sequence). Then, of course, there was the problem of getting through that silly twist, and, as BJ rightly says, the ludcicrously extended flashback. I can't believe no one told Scorsese that his story was essentially over, and he needed to wrap it up at that point, not pause for a 10-minute scene. I was never really with the movie after that... though I thought the final moment (which I don't find as ambiguous as some seem to) worked well. Basically a three-star movie, clearly for form rather than content.

I was thinking as I watched, though, that this movie, and much of what Scorsese has done this decade, is not so extraordinarily far from his 70s glory days as some appear to believe. There's quite a constant in his putting his lead character through the emotional mill. His last three films with DiCaprio (oddly, excluding the longtime dream project Gangs of New York) might as a trilogy be called The Passion of the Leo. In The Aviator, he watches his work go for naught and descends into a form of madness; in The Departed, he suffers every moment he's undercover, and pays with his life; and here he feverishly chases a mystery that turns out to be his own, in the end deciding to submit to oblivion rather than live with what he's done. Such negative denouements wouldn't have seemed unusual in the 70s heyday, but in this era of happy ending or bust, it's rather amazing Scorsese's maintained such a misanthropic outlook. I don't want to push this too far: it's clear we don't take these protagonists' fate as seriously as we did that of Travis Bickle or Jake LaMotta...but that I think is a result of the narrative limitations of the genres (esp. cop movie and gothic horror) within which he's working today. Marty's psyche remains just as committed to exploring depths.

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Postby Sonic Youth » Fri Mar 12, 2010 11:30 pm

Scorsese's forte has always been about people in extremis (except for the Dalai Lama), which fits his style just fine. So, as depressing as it is that this is the sort of material he's working with, he's nonetheless very much at home with this huge dollop of pulp, into which he digs with tremendous aplomb. After three depressing artistic compromises in a row, from Gangs to Departed, Scorsese takes an exceedingly conventional screenplay - nasty, unpleasant stuff, too - and finally, after a full decade of wheel-spinning, rips off whatever shackles have lately hemmed him in, and proves he can do things his way after all. How many other present-day thrillers have the majority of the scare-scenes set in sheer daylight, for example? Or dares a twenty-five minute climax that's museum-quiet all throughout? Or stylistically begins with the scope of Hitchcock at his most grand before switching over to present day Hong Kong thrillers? Yes, on paper the twist is a letdown, and yes, ultimately the film is one long digression. Also, anyone who thinks using the deaths of children is the ultimate in shameless manipulation had better stay away (although, miraculously, Scorsese takes a climax that's gratuitous by definition, shoots it - holds it - without flinching, and somehow manages it to not come across as gratuitous at all). And I couldn't care less. Spare me the guff about the deeper themes and whatnot. For me, Shutter Island is about nothing more and nothing less than the wonder and possibilities of high-quality filmmaking. I'm not happy that this is the sort of film Scorsese is making these days. But if there has to be movies like "Shutter Island", better they be made by a master.

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Postby Zahveed » Tue Feb 23, 2010 12:09 am


Sometimes it's hard to watch a film where you know there's a twist ending to it. It didn't bother me with this one. Every fifteen minutes or so I had changed my mind on what direction the film was going in. Is there a conspiracy? Is someone turning against him? Is Leo crazy? And even though the big reveal was pretty ridiculous, the twist turned the entire film on its head and spun it around. Because of this, there's a new way to watch the film in subsequent viewing. Much like Fight Club and The Sixth Sense, it goes from a genre film (in this case, B-movie suspense thriller) to a depressing psychological drama. You sense there's something wrong with Teddy from the beginning, but now it seems disturbing. Leo goes from a marshal to full time psychopath. His partner is now a doctor, keeping a close eye on him and gluing him to the fantasy. The secrets and hesitant answers are coming from nurses and orderlies who forgot their lines, or simply going about their ordinary business. And after all of this, he comes to the realization that he's a monster (though I believe his wife was much worse). It's my belief that Teddy was in control at the end. He didn't want to live anymore. What was left for him? He killed his wife whom killed their children and a chance to get psychological help and leave the ward wasn't going to change that. It was his bluff for a way out. To get off that island. He missed the ferry after all.

The score at the beginning, when they docked at Shutter Island and headed toward Ashcliffe, was pretty annoying. It suggested immediate horror and dramatic thrills when nothing was going on but talking about their job. I really enjoyed the imagery of the dreams and the explicit flashbacks. Otherwise, a lot of the scenes felt too crammed and claustrophobic - though I suppose that's what you should aim for when your film takes place in mental ward.
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Postby dws1982 » Mon Feb 22, 2010 12:09 pm

More to come but the quickest way I'd describe this is as an embarrassment to almost everyone involved. Dream sequences that feel like a third-rate Lynch imitation. Gratuitous flashbacks to Dachau and some other scenes from the main character's life. DiCaprio is dreadful, and who knew that the presence of DiCaprio would be Scorsese's most noticeable directoral trademark of the past decade?

As for the big twist, it's not something that I had completely figured out ahead of time, but I wasn't surprised by it either. It's hard to discuss without spoilers (and it's hard to be vague about them), but I think the ending makes itself a lot less interesting than it could have been. Between two clear possibilities, neither would've made a truly satisfying ending, and to me the only satisfying ending would've been one where both possibilities could be true. Of the two possibilities though, the one that was chosen made absolutely no sense in context of the two hours that preceded.

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Postby The Original BJ » Sat Feb 20, 2010 2:28 am

So, the big fear when Paramount moved Shutter Island from 2009 to 2010 was that it stunk...and I'm happy to report that's definitely not the case, even if the film isn't major (it's marred for me by one giant problem, which I'll get to). It's clear from having seen it that the studio knew they didn't have an awards contender on their hands, and the move likely had more to do with promoting it as a simple genre entertainment rather than having it scrutinized as an Oscar vehicle. ("Seriously, guys, this time we're REALLY not trying to get Marty Best Director!") Since it's a reasonably entertaining audience-pleaser, it should do well, drawing in adults who've caught up with the Oscar pictures and crowds tired of seeing Avatar for the twelfth time.

I think the best thing one can say about Shutter Island is that it's effective, or that it mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do. The film was, for me, pretty darn scary -- in an age when something like Paranormal Activity, with a couple good jolts, gets a baffling reputation for being TERRIFYING, it's nice to see something that builds and sustains suspense pretty consistently throughout the picture. I found myself on edge throughout the film's first half hour, pretty nerve-wracked throughout the cemetery section, and found DiCaprio & Ruffalo's visit to the high security ward absolutely bone-chilling. Scorsese deserves a lot of credit for this -- he doesn't resort to cheap, "shock" tactics to get you to jump, but creates an atmosphere that feels as gleefully frightening as the '50's B-horror flicks he has so much fun referencing with those early process shots. It's definitely in Cape Fear vein -- not a significant Scorsese effort, but a well-crafted thriller that's honest-to-god frightening as so few films are today. (And the incorporation of Cold War-era paranoia elements gives it some resonance, too.)

Scorsese's also helped by lots of good actors across the board. My favorites were the ones who each made an impression in essentially one-scene roles -- Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, and (can we please cast her in everything?) Patricia Clarkson. But the actors with more screen time (Kingsley, Ruffalo, Williams, von Sydow) are all well-cast, as is DiCaprio, though the role that mostly amounts to him looking terrified. (Side note: isn't it about time Scorsese found another muse?)

The big problem I mentioned earlier? Well, it's not an insignificant one: I saw nearly every element of the big twist coming from literally the moment that plot strand was introduced. As the film went on, there were narrative points that did surprise me -- Mortimer's first appearance came (to me) unexpectedly, and Clarkson's arrival announced a real neat mid-film twist -- and so I hoped that the film wouldn't conclude as I'd predicted it would. But then it did, and I pretty much groaned. Even worse, the film went on, and ON, and ON after that point, dragging the narrative out to completely unnecessary lengths, through tedious explanations of plot mechanics and a wholly superfluous flashback.

On the whole, the good stuff is entertaining, and I enjoyed watching such a well-done thriller through most of its running time. But the ending isn't memorable, and so, in the end, it doesn't add to up to too much more than a better-than-average spooker. Certainly worth seeing, though, if you want a break from crossing off the Last Stations and the Young Victorias and the Coco Before Chanels of this year's awards season.

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Postby Sonic Youth » Sat Feb 13, 2010 5:17 pm


Shutter Island
13 February, 2010 | By Tim Grierson

Dir: Martin Scorsese. US. 2009. 138mins.

Clearly flawed but entirely involving, Shutter Island is a superb genre thriller elevated by director Martin Scorsese’s consummate skill. Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel about two federal marshals trying to track down an escaped patient from a remote mental institution, this occasionally operatic psychological drama weaves an impressive spell, and even though it overstays its welcome, the film is simply too engrossing to deny.

World premiering out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival and opening February 19 in the US and several other territories, Shutter Island caters to adult audiences, which will be attracted to this grown-up thriller because of Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s involvement – Oscar winner The Departed ($290m worldwide) being their last collaboration in 2006. The commercial and critical success of Lehan’s previously adapted Mystic River (by Clint Eastwood) and Gone Baby Gone will also help.

Shutter Island should benefit from strong reviews and a demographic that will respond to positive word-of-mouth to give it a much longer theatrical life than its opening weekend.

In 1954, Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), a US Marshal haunted by the death of his wife (Michelle Williams), heads to Shutter Island with his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to determine the whereabouts of a missing psychopath (Emily Mortimer) from the island’s renowned mental hospital. But hints soon arise that the hospital may be hiding dark secrets about its deranged patients.

As with The Departed, Scorsese focuses his energies on creating a pulpy, highly entertaining genre film. Considering Shutter Island’s period trappings and creepy locales, the director is clearly harking back to the horror films of yesteryear, most notably The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, in which psychological scares and foreboding atmosphere are more important than any rampant gore. Done poorly, such cinematic referencing could potentially lead to an artificial tone, but Scorsese absorbs his influences so completely that Shutter Island never feels arid or self-conscious.

With the help of cinematographer Robert Richardson and production designer Dante Ferretti, Scorsese turns the film’s principal setting, Ashecliffe Hospital, into a dank, claustrophobic lair that’s perfect for the elegant mind games which will soon be visited upon Teddy as he tries to uncover the truth about the institution.

While it’s little surprise that the Marshal’s investigation will not go smoothly, Laeta Kalogridis’s screenplay deepens the drama by digging into the characters’ back-stories and teasing out possible answers for what’s really going on at the hospital. Scorsese takes sizable risks with elaborate, wilfully melodramatic dream sequences and flashbacks that add to the film’s temporal disorientation, but on the whole they’re very successfully rendered, giving the audience the same sense of looming unease that plagues Teddy and Chuck.

In keeping with the film’s increasingly surreal tone, music supervisor (and long-time Scorsese collaborator) Robbie Robertson draws from a diverse range of instrumental and pop music which is sometimes representative of the era (such as Johnny Ray’s crooning ‘50s ballad Cry) but occasionally more contemporary (such as minimalist composer John Adams’ gorgeous ‘70s orchestral piece Christian Zeal And Activity), which furthers Shutter Island’s strategy of faithfully adhering to its time period while simultaneously evoking a mind-state that seems to transcend chronological boundaries.

Unfortunately, at well past two hours in length, Shutter Island can’t maintain its feverish grip on the audience, as certain thematic points and narrative tricks are repeated until they lose their potency. In addition, the mystery’s outcome, though masterfully delivered, isn’t entirely a surprise, which makes its slow reveal somewhat anticlimactic.

Still, the performances are largely first-rate. DiCaprio can sometimes still seem too baby-faced to fully embody the role of the emotionally tortured Teddy, but he remains an extremely empathetic actor. Ruffalo perhaps leans too heavily on noir clichés for his role as Teddy’s loyal partner, but Ben Kingsley perfectly embodies his part as the institution’s brilliant (and potentially diabolical) head doctor.
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Postby Sonic Youth » Sat Feb 13, 2010 5:13 pm

Shutter Island


Expert, screw-turning narrative filmmaking put at the service of old-dark-madhouse claptrap, "Shutter Island" arguably occupies a similar place in Martin Scorsese's filmography as "The Shining" does in Stanley Kubrick's. In his first dramatic feature since "The Departed," Scorsese applies his protean skill and unsurpassed knowledge of Hollywood genres to create a dark, intense thriller involving insanity, ghastly memories, mind-alteration and violence, all wrapped in a story about the search for a missing patient at an island asylum. A topnotch cast headed by Leonardo DiCaprio looks to lead this Paramount release, postponed from its original opening date last fall to Feb. 19, to muscular returns in all markets.

As Kubrick did with Stephen King's novel, Scorsese uncustomarily ventures here into bestseller territory that obliges him to deliver certain expected ingredients for the mass audience and adhere to formula more than has been his nature over the years. Although "The Departed" and "Cape Fear" come close, "Shutter Island" is the film that most forces the director to walk the straight and narrow in terms of carefully and clearly telling a story; if testing himself within that discipline was his intention, this most devoted of cinema students among major American directors gets an "A."

He also chose his material well. Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel is quite a few notches above the norm for mass-market popular fiction; ingeniously structured and populated with a rogue's gallery of intriguing, deceptive characters, the book is a real page-turner, spiked with game-changing twists, which draws upon perfectly legitimate medical, legal, historical and political issues.

It even offers an ending sufficiently ambiguous enough to inspire genuine debate. At its heart, however, it's still a potboiler, smartly fashioned to yank the reader this way and that while providing a veneer of moral inquiry for respectability's sake.

The script by Laeta Kalogridis (an exec producer on "Avatar" said to have worked closely with James Cameron on developing the project) faithfully hews to the letter and spirit of Lehane's tome, leaving Scorsese and his top-drawer collaborators with the largely technical task of crafting a drum-tight suspenser that won't take on too much water via the many memory flashbacks and surprise developments.

Working in a format that recalls the moody, low-budget horror mysteries of the 1940s produced at RKO by Val Lewton -- most pointedly "Isle of the Dead" and "The Seventh Victim," but in a far more visually vivid and explicit style -- Scorsese employs an exquisite modern equivalent of old-fashioned process work to show U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) chugging the 11 miles on a ferry between Boston and the eponymous island that's home to Ashecliffe Hospital

[color=white]Warned by welcoming deputy warden (the excellent John Carroll Lynch) that the place houses only "the most dangerous, damaged patients," the two men get an eyeful of weird, zombie-like inmates doing menial work around an institution that resembles an impenetrable fortress -- because it was built as one, for use during the Civil War.

It's a heavy, deeply ominous place, outfitted by production designer Dante Ferretti to instill not only menace but also unease and anxiety; it's deliberately made difficult for Teddy and Chuck, as well as for the viewer, to understand the proximity of one place to another, to know where one stands literally and figuratively, to decide where it's safe and where it's not. Cloaking the mood is the pervasive disquiet of the Cold War tension of 1954.

This makes it harder to get a handle on the task at hand, which is finding Rachel Solando, the murderer of her three children, who somehow escaped from her tiny room, got past guards and presumably made her way out onto the island. The man in charge, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), is elegant, erudite and helpful, albeit only up to a point, and after interviewing staff and patients, Teddy and Chuck begin to feel they're on a fool's errand.

But there are forces that keep the men on the rocky, densely forested island.

Teddy, a grizzled World War II vet tormented by the fiery death of his wife (Michelle Williams in flashbacks) two years before -- as well as by visions of the corpses he found at Dachau upon helping liberate the concentration camp -- finds a cryptic note left by Rachel in her room that drives him forward. He may have hidden reasons of his own for sticking around. Then there's a gathering storm, which cuts off telephone and ferry service even before reaching full hurricane-level intensity.

One can rest assured that Teddy is not alone in concealing secret motives and agendas. In fact, everyone has them and, beginning an hour in, they are parcelled out in astutely measured doses to keep you hanging on to the very end.

Along the way, there are encounters with a brilliant doctor with a suspicious German accent (Max von Sydow); a perilous descent into the bowels of the notorious Ward C, home to the worst of the worst; rising suspicions about what really goes on in this place and accompanying doubt as to whether anyone who arrives on Shutter Island ever is allowed to leave.

This is high-end popcorn fare adorned with a glittering pedigree by a powerhouse cast and crew. DiCaprio appears deeply into his role; a lot is asked of him, physically and emotionally, and his battle-and-tragedy-scarred veteran embodies a tangible anguish. Ruffalo is ideally cast as the older but junior agent who takes a lighter approach to serious matters. If this story had been made in the heyday of noir, Kirk Douglas could have played Teddy and Robert Mitchum would have been a perfect Chuck.

Kingsley and von Sydow bring their smooth confidence to bear on their roles as institution big shots, while Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson score in their individual big scenes.

But the greatest interest lies in the craftsmanship, which is provided in spades by Ferretti, cinematographer Robert Richardson, visual effects and second-unit overseer Rob Legato, costume designer Sandy Powell, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and dozens of others. Even when it's clear Scorsese has decided to employ fakery and allow it to be obvious, it's done with elegance and beauty.

Of at least equal interest is the soundtrack, supervised by Robbie Robertson, which employs mostly modern serious and classical music in the same manner of intelligent sampling that Scorsese normally uses rock and borrowed movie compositions. The sudden infusions of discordant, atonal and otherwise unsettling passages by Ligeti, Penderecki, Cage, Adams and, more traditionally, Mahler, among numerous others, further amplifies the sought-after climate of malignant ambiguity.[/color]
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Postby Sonic Youth » Sat Feb 13, 2010 5:08 pm

The reviews are coming fast and furious. Here we go...

Shutter Island -- Film Review
By Kirk Honeycutt, February 13, 2010 04:00 ET
Hollywood Reporter

BERLIN -- Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" is a remarkable high-wire act, performed without a net and exploiting all the accumulated skills of a consummate artist. It dazzles and provokes. But since when did Scorsese become a circus performer?

The movie certainly keeps you in its grip from the opening scene: It's a nerve-twisting, tension-jammed exercise in pure paranoia and possibly Scorsese's most commercial film yet. With a top cast hitting their marks with smooth efficiency, "Island" looks like a boxoffice winner. Paramount opens the film domestically Friday Feb. 19.

Laeta Kalogridis' screenplay is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, whose blue-collar crime novels have been turned into such movies as "Gone Baby Gone" and "Mystic River." But this story clearly derives from memories and images of old movies -- from 1950s Gothic mysteries and Cold War-era paranoia thrillers to 1960s movies cranked out by the Roger Corman factory (where Scorsese once toiled), especially its Edgar Allan Poe/Vincent Price chillers.

You get an isolated island, howling weather, mad scientists, an ex-Nazi, tough cops, deranged patients and a penal hospital with crowded, filthy cells and corridors stretching forever -- possibly beyond sanity.

Scorsese has given himself a film student's puzzle: Try to make a '50s-era thrill ride with today's techniques and technology. One senses his childlike delight behind every camera move and jump cut. As his audience squirms, he's in movie heaven.

From the opening music chords, supervised by Robbie Robertson from existing source material, a sense of doom settles over the film's characters. In 1954, two U.S. marshals -- Teddy (Scorsese's go-to star, Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) -- watch the forbidding fortress that is Shutter Island loom larger and larger as their ferry approaches the island's only dock.

In quick order, exposition rolls off the actors' tongues, like in those B-movies that lasted only 70 minutes. [LOTS OF SPOILERS] [color=white]Shutter Island is a hospital for the criminally insane. One female psychopathic patient has gone missing, incredibly, from a locked room within the fearsome-looking Ashecliffe Hospital. A hurricane is approaching. The guards and psychiatrists then greet the lawmen with hostility and evasions. Everything screams, "Go back!"

Teddy gradually warms up to his partner enough to take him into his confidence: He asked for this assignment. Unresolved issues await him on Shutter Island. His nightmares vividly underscore these past traumas. They involve his platoon liberating a concentration camp and witnessing its horrors. They involve the death of his wife and a former Shutter Island prisoner who talked to him about devastating medical experiments and funding by anti-Soviet groups.

In fact, maybe these aren't nightmares at all. During daytime, Teddy experiences flashbacks and the presence of the dead, especially his late wife (Michelle Williams) and a little girl from the camp who asks, "Why didn't you save me?"

The hospital's pipe-smoking chief psychiatrist, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), preaches the humane treatment of patients. (He won't use the word "prisoner.") But his fellow shrink with a German accent (Max von Sydow) reminds Teddy of the dark side of the medical profession he encountered in the camp.

When the storm hits, chaos reigns. Trees crash into buildings, electrical outages free prisoners, all communication with the mainland is cut off and the two marshals are as much prisoners as the patients.

The story barrels forward into encounters with an escaped prisoner (Patricia Clarkson) hiding on the island and another prisoner (Jackie Earle Haley) who has been severely beaten. Then, suddenly, the escaped female killer (Emily Mortimer) is found -- just like that. Teddy isn't buying it.

The problem, of course, is the viewer is in the same boat. Are Teddy's nightmares and ghosts because of something the warden has slipped into his drink? Are any of these encounters real? If so, which are real and which are ... imaginary?

The big reveal, when it does happen, might be yet another fraud. Teddy certainly clings to his conspiracy theories.
Scorsese is in full control of all three rings of this cinematic circus. Every lesson he learned, from Alfred Hitchcock to Don Siegel, is on display. Nearly every camera move is fraught with excitement. The music, costumes, props and the many rooms and halls of this fortress-prison are designed for maximum emotional impact.

After finally getting that long-sought Oscar for "The Departed," perhaps Scorsese figures it's time to have a bit of fun. He isn't asking to be taken seriously here. This isn't "Taxi Driver" or "GoodFellas" or even "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore." It comes closest in his oeuvre to "Cape Fear," but with a more commercial instinct.

Let's hope this is a digression in his illustrious career, a way of playing with what Orson Welles called the "toys" of moviemaking. With Dante Ferretti designing his sets and Robert Richardson behind the camera, Scorsese certainly has the right playmates. Longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker weaves her magic by bringing images together in such a way that the audience can't quite trust what it sees.

It's a pleasure to experience Scorsese as a circus master. One just hopes he doesn't continue in this vein.[/color]

Edited By Sonic Youth on 1266098959
"What the hell?"

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Postby Big Magilla » Fri Feb 05, 2010 4:59 am

Emanuel Levy gives it a B+

The new horror film, "Shutter Island," based on the popular novel by Dennis Lehane, represents a mid-range and mid-achievement for Scorsese in his post-Oscar phase every way. The film is dense in imagery but not rich enough in ideas, almost consistently entertaining but not entirely gripping, stylistically overwrought without being truly poignant.

World-premiering at the 2010 Berlin Film Fest, "Shutter Island," which will be released by Paramount in the U.S. on February 19, may divide critics, but should do reasonably well at the box-office (The film, touted to be Oscar contender, was pushed back from its original late fall date).

Unlike Brian De Palma and David Fincher, the horror genre has never been a natural fit for Scorsese, who indeed has made few films that could be classified that way, the last of which was the 1991 remake, "Cape Fear," which also was overwrought, excessive, and lacking in other significant ways.

Structurally and thematically uneven, "Shutter Island" has a good set-up (first reel is great), a rather lugubrious and too fractured mid-section, and a terrific last reel and closure, which explain my overall mixed-to-positive reaction.

Even the quality of the acting is not consistently high. While DiCaprio, in a tough leading role, is commanding, some of the supporting actors, particularly the usually great Max von Sydow, are not very convincing, a function of the writing. And of the three women in the cast, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, and Patricia Clarkson, only one truly shines, Clarkson, and in a dual role. Clarkson's cave scene with DiCaprio, in the saga's second half, is such a highlight in terms of acting and unsettling audience's expectations that you wish the rest could have been on the same level.

Set in 1954, at the height of the McCarthy political witch-hunting, Cold War, UFO, and other paranoias, when Americans felt bewildered and insecure, not knowing what was going to happen next, "Shutter Island" blends the conventions of the horror, paranoia, thriller, detective, noir, and supernatural genres, with touches of psychological realism and claustrophobia as manifest in movies set within isolated prisons and asylums (there's a long tradition of Hollywood pictures). On another level, the film could be perceived as Scorsese's tribute to the classic German silent, made during the Weimar-period, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, directed by Thomas Wiener.

To be fair, the source material is rather tricky for a smooth and facile big-screen adaptation, and while scribe Kalogridis (better known for TV work) meets most of the tasks, the inherently jagged narrative lacks consistent dramatic momentum, sort of glue to connect the disparate chapters. "Shutter Island" is very much a movie in which individual parts are stronger than the whole.

This is the fourth collaboration of DiCaprio with Scorsese, following the disappointing "The Gangs of New York" (2002), which was not good for either man, "The Aviator" (2004), which was glitzy and old-fashioned, "The Departed" (their best teaming so far), and now "Shutter Island," which challenges both artists. Scorsese has always gravitated towards character rather than plot-oriented tales, and in this picture, he tries to do both—to varying degrees of success.

Scorsese's impressive achievements are in the visual department (especially the lighting, courtesy of ace lenser Richardson) and in guiding DiCaprio into another stellar performance, offering deep psychological insights into a troubled paranoid persona. The actor plays a far more complex part than he did as the paranoid Howard Hughes in "The Aviator."

At the center of "Shutter Island" is the shattering experience of Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), the hard-bitten war veteran and bright U.S. Marshal, who claims to have witnessed the horrors of the death camps and to have shot in cold blood numerous Nazi officers (all shown in brief flashbacks).

When we first meet Teddy, he's aboard a small ferry, on his knees throwing up in the toilet. Not the best way to introduce himself to his new partner Chuck Aule, (Mark Ruffalo). The couple is en route to the island's hospital (actually more of a prison) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a brutal killer. However, the longer they stay, the deeper they sink into an abnormal (and paranormal) reality, defined by dizzying riddles, haunted subjective memories, and unrelenting fears. What's going on?

Predictably met with resistance, Teddy's investigation runs into one obstacle after another. Before long, he begins to believe that he's being manipulated, watched, perhaps even drugged and pushed into the dark edges of his own sanity. Is he being warned away from getting at the "bigger truth" of Shutter Island, or drawn into a horrific medical experiment? And if so, is he a subject or an object? Clearly, there are all sorts of hidden agendas that keep Teddy and Chuck (who barely talks in the first reel) in this frightening, isolated, and impenetrable place.

Gradually, it becomes clear that Teddy has come to Shutter Island devoted to solving a mystery, but that he's also burdened by his own agenda and secrets. But is he reliable? There's more to Teddy's journey than there appears to be.

"Shutter Island" touches on the perennial Hitchcockian theme of appearances versus reality. The movie poses a question asked by all of us, at one point or another in our lives: Am I mad, or is the world around me mad? What’s real and what is not? Subjective versus objective reality? In the best Hitchcockian way, unfolding like a layer cake, the story is constantly jarring us, unsettling our sympathies, shifting and moving in various, unanticipated directions

Though the couple of sleuths, elegantly dressed in brown and beige suits, is starting to build trust, they're always suspicious about each other’s intentions. At one point, it seems that Chuck is out there to protect Teddy, but later on, it feels he’s pushing him towards a downfall, if not reckoning.

Soon, Chuck, Teddy’s partner, is also swept up in the mysteries and conspiracies on the isle, which surrounded by huge rocks and is experiencing one of the worst torrential rains.

Take the brilliant Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who watches every move of Teddy and Chuck’s, while pretending to help them find his dangerous, missing patient. He has an interesting perspective on his profession, at a crucial period in time, when there was battle raging between the old therapies and the new drugs and surgical approaches like lobotomies.

Wearing a green suit, Oxford brogue shoes and sporting a perpetual pipe, Dr. Cawlrey is on the one hand a man with his feet planted on the ground, but one the other, he's utterly devoted to promote ambitious scientific enterprises Like the other characters, Dr. Cawley is also defined by secretive, dangerous missions that the government and the medical authorities may or may not know about.

Then there's Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) a former Nazi and one of Ashecliffe’s most ominous and threatening figures, running around with needle in his hand, ready for action. Dr. Naehring represents the other (negative?) side of the psychiatric profession.

The three central femmes are even more perplexing, particularly Teddy’s dead wife Dolores, who's accused of abominable crimes. (I am not spoiling anything here, because the first in which Dolores lost her life is depicted in the very first reel). Dolores is caught up in every paranoia imaginable, with paralyzing anxieties about war, about being spied on, about not being safe.
Dolores appears, as herself or as an apparition, in mostly bloody, dream-induced deluges.

Also present is the inmate George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley, in another formidable turn after the Oscar-nominated "Little Children"), a mysterious, battered man from Teddy’s past.

Dolores isn’t the only woman who haunts Teddy during his journey to Ashecliffe hospital. The other one is Rachel Solando, the disturbed murderess whose inexplicable escape brings him to the island in the first place, who appears in two incarnations (played by Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer).

In her other part, Clarkson is like the Oracle of Delphi, engaged in a ritualistic encounter, but acting "normal," and playing in straightforward manner with no tricks or gimmicks. She represents another twist and turn within a film that operates on several levels. Just when you think she might provide the truth, or at least some solace and peace of mind, not to mention the journey's endpoint, you find out that there are more twists to come.

At first, the film seems to be just another intriguing noir detective story but, as it goes along, surprising (even shocking) events and new layers emerge, along with roller coaster twists, with characters getting stranger and stranger.

(Not to worry: All of the story’s carefully-built skeletons of secrets are eventually exposed, if not explained). The story is like an archeological dig, made up of layers under layers.

As noted, stylistically, the movie offers many visual pleasures, as the tale is defined by flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks, period elegance expressed in costumes, altered states of mind, film noir vocabulary, and touches of the Gothic and supernatural genres.

Watching, or rather experiencing, "Shutter Island" is like being in a nightmare you can’t wake up from, a nightmare that constantly keeps changing, getting darker and darker, stranger and stranger.

Reviewed on February 4, 2010.

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