Monday, February 22, 2010

Most Anticipated Checklist - SHUTTER ISLAND

*This review contains spoilers*

Another weekend, another disappointment. As with THE WOLFMAN, SHUTTER ISLAND was a bit of a letdown. Despite its delays and lukewarm pre-release reviews, I still expected a lot out of this film, and I think reasonably so. With Scorsese behind the lens, some formidable talent on screen and a popular book as source material, this seemed like a home run. But the whole isn't always the sum of its parts.

SHUTTER ISLAND was billed as a horror or at least a scary thriller. The prospect of Scorsese doing a horror excited me very much because it's rare that such a high profile director takes on the genre. In reality, the film wasn't scary, frightening, or all that thrilling. There were some unsettling images in Teddy's (DiCaprio) dreams. As a veteran of WWII, a concentration camp liberator, and widower to a murdered wife, he has a troubled mind, which plays out quite effectively in his nightmares. These were probably the most well done pieces in the film. However, it seems as though he can't quite make up his mind about what bothers him more. I think the film could have benefited from a more focused point of disturbance for Teddy. I suppose the magnitude of various trauma in his life is important, but it isn't conducive to truly emotional storytelling, which this film lacked.

Being as the main characters in the film are detectives, one would expect SHUTTER ISLAND to work as a mystery. It does, but it's not a very mysterious mystery. Teddy is convinced that there's an evil conspiracy going on at the island/institution and much that is revealed throughout the film goes to support this, but something is obviously off about his whole situation there. Essentially, there are only two possible outcomes to the film: a) Teddy is right, Shutter Island is conducting secret experiments on its patients b) Teddy is crazy. There aren't a lot of twists and turns, red herrings, or false evidence and no other potential conclusions are even hinted at. Frankly, I would have been more surprised if something fishy was going on at the institution because the big reveal is telegraphed throughout the entire film; Teddy is crazy (and with good reason). The story of his breakdown is a bit more of a revelation and the most unsettling, emotional, and sad scene in the film.

The film's ending ties everything together nicely and makes up for some of the problematic storytelling, but that doesn't excuse its being an ineffective mystery, horror and thriller throughout. I had a hard time keeping myself engaged because there wasn't a whole lot to the majority of the film. SHUTTER ISLAND really warrants a second viewing in light of the end; knowing the details of Teddy's tragedy might make the movie more interesting, but I doubt it will change my feelings entirely.

Despite my criticisms of SHUTTER ISLAND, I still think that even a mediocre Scorsese film is better than the majority of movies out there, he's just held to a higher standard because of how great he can be. The man is allowed to make a less-than-perfect film now and then.

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