Monday, February 22, 2010

Shutter Island (2010) – Review

Shutter Island is creepy, well made and interesting – a film that interacts with its audience, building not only tension but also engaging the viewer to participate in the detective aspect of the film. The main theme of the film is redemption set against the early Cold War paranoia. Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Teddy Daniels above all else seeks atonement for the tragedies of his past, which all come crashing to a head as he investigates the disappearance of a patient on Shutter Island’s facility for the criminally insane. As the Teddy and the viewer decipher clues, listen to the interviews and get wrapped up in the case, director Martin Scorsese forces in flashback and haunting imagery to signal that all is not what it seems, with the character, the case and the film. The avid viewer will enjoy participating in unraveling the case, clue by clue, as the payoff is evident amongst the facts before it is revealed. The thematic elements of the main character trying to find redemption and attempting to fit into society, in whatever form that exists around him, are common in Scorsese’s work and it is interesting to see the different ways that he comes at them. Here, Scorsese seems to be most interested in how tragedy affects people, the different ways that they cope. Do they retreat or push forward? Teddy digs deeper into his work, and so the film works best as an interactive detective narrative with these thematic elements influencing the character and his perspective. Another interesting aspect to the film is that only Teddy Daniels seems to be a fully fleshed out character – in other words, Teddy seems real, while everyone else is a caricature playing a role (minus one other character), which normally would seem like a negative, but here it works quite well in the narrative that Scorsese has laid out. The imagery that Scorsese uses is impactful and meaningful, both emotionally and in terms of solving the case. A number of the scenes visually were masterfully impressive, poetic and with wonderful composition (my favorite is the flashback scene in which DiCaprio is staring down at the German officer bleeding to death while paper floats in the air behind and around him, sort of beautiful and intensely sad). Scorsese’s visualization of Teddy’s nightmares is astonishing, visually stunning yet emotionally tragic. The music used in the film at first seemed to be strangely over the top and forced given the genre, but as the film plays out, this makes sense and like many other aspects works well in the structure. The music does add to the tension that the film builds throughout in addition to the story elements and situations that have implicit anxiety attached (some in the theatre could not handle it screaming out at parts). The film is very well acted by DiCaprio and there is strong supporting work by Michelle Williams. Ben Kingsley gives a slightly offbeat performance which seems very odd at times, yet like everything else, works here. Emily Mortimer is also good and really creepy. The shooting style of Robert Richardson mixed with the editing of Thelma Schoonmaker along with Scorsese’s input created an interesting visual style to the film. At times, the camera would pan, yet it looked like a projector moving to the next slide, as if the divulgence of visual information was rehearsed to be presented. Also, there are shots of perspective that seem off when the location is visited again. Things seem off throughout, but again it works. All in all, the film is a very good detective film with psychologically-thriller elements built in to the narrative structure with fantastic imagery creating an interestingly made film – another fine one from Scorsese. 8/10

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