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Shutter Island

March 13, 2011

Shutter Island (2010)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo

shutter island

Synopsis: FBI agent Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) heads to the infamous Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a female inmate.

Review: Shutter Island marks a substantial return to form for Martin Scorsese – it’s his best film in a long, long time, and represents a re-awakening of his interest in meaty, interior dramas, and a move away from the bloated and pseudo-grandiose works of recent years (think Gangs of New York, The Aviator and The Departed). The material seems to bring out the best in Scorsese, with his inner-cinephile gorging on the B-Movie/Film Noir references – there’s a super old-fashioned, psychological music score; some wonderfully gothic and atmospheric cinematography; plus great use of pathetic fallacy and forboding production design for Shutter Island itself. There’s even a hint of Kubrick in Scorsese’s marrying of impeccable cinematic technique to pulpy, hokum narratives – the ominous tracking shot when Teddy arrives on Shutter Island mirrors the car winding its way towards the Overlook Hotel in the opening to Kubrick’s The Shining. The narrative itself is fantastically handled and shaped, and even though it wouldn’t take a genius to figure that somehow Teddy’s own troubled past is intrinsically linked to Shutter Island beyond his initial detective mission, the intense pull of the drama and the strong performances by a great ensemble cast make that journey never less than engrossing.

Arguably Scorsese’s only slight misstep is in his need to over-egg the twist at the end, with an over-extended and already explained flashback accounting for Teddy’s core psychological trauma. Although Scorsese hints that Teddy still might not be ‘cured’ by the film’s end, I think it might have been even more interesting if Teddy’s initial mission and doubts about Shutter Island were in fact real. One thing not in question though is the quality of Leonard DiCaprio’s performance in the lead role. He’s an actor I’ve taken a long time to warm to – sensing that a lot of his roles post-Titanic have been too earnest and ‘try-hard’ – perhaps a need to demonstrate that he’s not the matinée idol the media once groomed him for? Now however, I’m inclined to admire the intensity and tenacity of his screen persona – especially suitable for the psychodramatic brew of Shutter Island – and his desire to work with the most challenging directors that Hollywood has to offer (Scorsese, Nolan etc), rather than coast on a diet of rom-coms and other star vehicles. (March 2011)

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