Shutter Island

posted Feb 19, 2010, 9:37 PM by Jeff Brandt

First off, no, that guy in the trailer (pictured at right) is not Robert De Niro. I guess he has a similar sneer going for him, but I kind of wanted to smack the person a row behind me who thought that was him. You really think he would receive that small of a role -- a bit part, really -- in the movie? In a Martin Scorsese picture, no less? The legend who redefined American cinema by playing Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta? No friggin way.

But onto the matter at hand. Shutter Island, based on a novel by bestselling author Dennis Lehane, stars the other great Italian-American Scorsese actor: Leonardo DiCaprio. He's Teddy Daniels, a 1950s hard-boiled U.S. Marshal who can't stop reliving the horrors of World War II -- specifically the death camp at Dachau. Alongside the 1990s golden boy are Sir Ben Kingsley (who has thankfully cut his hair since The Wackness) as the head psychiatrist at the house of horrors that is the Shutter Island max-security facility for the criminally insane, and Mark Ruffalo, who  tags along DiCaprio in their investigation of a prisoner/patient's bizarre disappearance.

I have to admit, the trailer had me worried that this would be a major bust for Martin Scorsese. Not box office-wise, but critically. It's marketed as a kind of standard Hollywood psychological horror movie . . . a big name-actor being trapped in a scary, confined area; spooked crazy people staring at you funny; typical screaming violins. And although the acting isn't the greatest I've seen from any of the major players, the characters aren't too complicated, and the plot does, more or less, follow conventions, Scorsese totally sucked me into the story.


Being the cinema style freak that I am (it's not what you do, but how you do it), the major payoffs for me came in the dream and hallucination sequences. In them, our
detective's past and present collide in vivid and surreal color -- almost like a Tarsem Singh (The Fall, The Cell) film. There are a few unsettling images from wartime Germany, but what really affected me was the first dream, where Leo is at home with his now-deceased wife (Michelle Williams of Synechdoche, New York), and the living room begins to rain ashes.

I don't want to say much more because I'd probably give something important away. Yeah, it's that kind of movie -- but done skillfully.

As of tonight, RottenTomatoes has given it 68% overall, with the "Top Critics" chiming in at 62% approval. Not bad, but not too favorable either, which makes Shutter Island an underrated movie in my book. I realize it's not up there with Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, or even Gangs of New York, but it seems like the critics are rating it lower simply because it's a below-average Scorsese movie. While that much is true, the "average" for Scorsese is damn high. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing Shutter Island will be one of 2010's best movies until early summer rolls around with the Iron Man sequel.

On a side note, for those of you who noticed the R rating was partially due to full frontal male nudity: sorry, man-loving ladies and gents: the goods are not Leo's. Maybe next time.



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