Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Shutter Island" Movie Review

This morning, my movie class had a bonus screening of Martin Scorsese's new drama, "Shutter Island", starring Leonardo DiCaprio.


When a U.S. marshal is summoned to a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a murderess from the island's fortress - like hospital for the criminally insane, he suspects there may be horrific scientific experiments being conducted on the unwitting patients there -- and if he doesn't escape the island quickly, he may be next!


Shutter Island is a barren, craggy, kinetosis - inducing ferry ride from Boston Harbor -- and in 1954, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is assigned to investigate the possible disappearance of one of its patients/inmates -- Rachel, who was found guilty of murdering her three children.  With new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels begins looking into the goings on behind this creepy hospital - cum - prison -- unfortunately, the staff, including psychiatrists Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and the spooky Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), prove major obstacles in Daniels' ability to make any progress in the case. 

When high winds and strong rains produce hurricane - like conditions that preclude ferries back to the mainland, the two Marshals find themselves not only temporarily stuck on the island, but even worse, forced to be "guests" of the prison -- at least until weather conditions improve enough for them to leave.  Given the fact that none of the employees are being terribly forthright in their cooperation with the investigation, Daniels' decision to end the investigation and leave seems to make sense -- at least until he begins to have suspicions that this place is not quite everything it seems to be.  The few lucid patients there seem reluctant to talk when questioned, so he quite understandably suspects something's up, especially when they warn him to leave immediately.  Despite being troubled with migraines, nightmares about his late wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) and persistent flashbacks of his traumatic experiences freeing the prisoners at the Nazi Concentration Camp in Dachau while serving in the Army during World War II, he decides to press on until he finally gets to the bottom of things.  

Eventually, Daniels is drawn into believing that his involvement in this case is nothing more than merely a plot by the United States government to turn the tables on him and have him committed to this institution -- possible reasons being due to his investigations on previous cases being potentially damaging to high - ranking members of the government and their special interests.  The added risk here, of course, is that should the government succeed in having Daniels become a patient at the facility, he might be subjected to the same torturous experiments that the current residents are experiencing.  With this threat to his life and career, can Daniels successfully escape Shutter Island with both his life and his sanity intact?


In some ways, this was an unusual screening for my movie class -- for one reason, because this is a movie that has already opened (this weekend, in fact) and for another, because it's something of a thriller, which has been very rarely shown in the decade that I've been a student.  On the other hand, it really does fit right in because it's a Scorsese flick -- in fact, he was supposedly instrumental in facilitating the class' screening because he attended New York University's Film School with our instructor many years ago.  While definitely a very good film and certainly one I'd recommend, be forewarned if you're a Scorsese fan that this is not one of his typical flicks ... at least not on the surface.  But more about that later. 

Performances by this incredibly strong cast are excellent -- including and especially DiCaprio, but special mention has to go to both Kingsley and especially von Sydow for their foreboding presence of evil.  If ever there was a movie review that was ripe for Spoilers, brother, this one would be the mother of them all; there were so many plot twists and turns that you wind up wondering if what you just saw/heard was imagined or real.  Obviously, I'm not about to give away any of them -- particularly the ending, which is a real lulu -- but for the experience of the mind-fuck alone, this one is worth seeing.

One thing that was a little surprising about this screening was the fact that there was something of a sparse turnout -- surprising because it's both a major release AND a Scorsese flick.  My guess as to why this was so is simply due to the fact that the film had already opened on Friday night.  Of those that did attend, an overwhelming majority of the class really liked the movie quite a good deal and understandably so.  I would strongly recommend that you stay through the end credits even if you don't read them -- the reason being that the song that plays over the credits is worth the wait.  It's a haunting tune sung by Dinah Washington and I found its lyrics to strongly resonate the themes from the film -- an excellent choice by Scorsese or whomever it was picked this one.