Friday, March 5, 2010

Shutter Island (2010)

From the previews, Shutter Island looked like another slam dunk for legendary director Martin Scorsese. It looked like it was chock full of chills and thrills, from the surreal sequence of Leonardo DiCaprio’s character holding a woman who turns to ash to the foreboding look of the island itself. It continues to top the box office and even the reviews for it have been mostly positive.

However, I wasn’t too terribly impressed with this ho-hum thriller.

It’s 1954 and U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonard DiCaprio) arrives on the high security Shutter Island, home of some of the most criminally insane patients in the U.S., to investigate the disappearance of a female patient with his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo).

As Teddy and Chuck get deeper and deeper into their investigation, twists and turns appear around every corner. The man who caused Teddy’s wife’s death is supposedly a patient at the institution, there appears to be some mad Nazi-like experimentation going on with the prisoners, a mysterious lighthouse stands guarded day and night, the missing woman either vanished into thin air or had help, and the patients seem to be cooperating with the doctors to hide something from the Marshals. Through all this, Teddy has nightmares about his wife as her death haunts him.

As Teddy uncovers more secrets, he starts to believe that there is a conspiracy afoot and starts to believe he will never make it off the island.

I had been looking forward to Shutter Island ever since I first heard about it, but after seeing it I can say I expected a little more from it. I’m not saying it’s a terrible film by any means, but if you can guess the big twist just minutes into the movie, it’s safe to say it has some flaws.

Before we get to the flaws, though, let’s discuss its merits. The first thing I enjoyed was the woefully gloomy atmosphere. From the dilapidated cells of the institution to the constant stormy weather (oh ya, they experience a hurricane) and grey surf that pounds the rocky island and drab clothing of the nurses and orderlies, the film just gives off a dismal feeling. And the cinematography – from the dizzying heights of the high rocky cliffs to the claustrophobic cells of the institution – is breathtaking.

However, no matter how pretty it looks the film starts to drag after the first hour or so. There also aren’t very many “scary” instances, though there are quite a few horrifying ones. One occurs when Teddy sees an old woman with only a few clumps of hair on her head as he arrives to the institution (see preview). There are a few other startling patients Teddy has encounters with, but not many. And if you hope to see more scenes like the one where his wife turns to ash in his arms (as seen in the preview) you can probably forget about it – the main focus of the film is Teddy and his partner digging for clues in the rain as to the whereabouts of the missing patient, and later, what the institution is hiding.

While Shutter Island wasn’t a bad film, I was expecting something a bit more complex and interesting from a Scorsese “psychological thriller”. Yet, Shutter Island didn’t really thrill me and I left the theater thinking “meh”. Am I glad I saw it? Sure, but would I ever want to see it again? Probably not.

Available from Amazon!

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