Thursday, 25 February 2010

Shutter Island - Dir. Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese – the man, the myth, the filmmaking legend – returns to the big screen with ‘Shutter Island’, his fifth feature film in ten years. Reuniting himself with his on-screen son Leonardo DiCaprio for a psychological thriller based upon Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name which follows US Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they are sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient on Shutter Island, home to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Scorsese and Robert Richardson (two-time Academy Award Winning Cinematographer) are, as usual, in fine form building the solemn atmosphere one brick at a time; however it is the story and the acting of the films ensemble which restrict this film from being yet another masterpiece.

The year is 1954. US Marshalls Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are sent together to the mysterious Shutter Island, home of the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane which houses the most deadly and unstable patients the world has to offer. There to track down the escaped patient Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) who has, somewhat impossibly, vanished without a trace Daniels and Chuck start to become entangled in the web of lies and the mystery surrounding the real nature and purpose of Ashecliffe. With their investigation being constantly blockaded and restricted by the Hospital’s Chief Psychiatrist Dr John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), Senior Psychiatrist Dr Naehring (Max von Sydow) and the Deputy Warden (John Carroll Lynch), it seems that the patients aren’t the only dangerous people within the electrified walls of this secretive Institution.

Directing his first psychological thriller in nearly twenty years, Scorsese shows that he still knows how to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, while covering their eyes, and cowering slowly. The tense, creepy, bleak visual atmosphere is what keeps ‘Shutter Island’s’ narrative continually ticking over. From the location of the Wards, to the darkness of the hallways, every scene after the early establishing sequences is littered and fraught with deepening suspense and fear, reminiscent of a certain Scorsese film released in 1991. If the characters, criminals and location don’t convince you that Ashecliffe is a place where you would never wish to be, then the dark, menacing and incredibly desolate visual aesthetics should, especially that of Ward C. The housing complex of the most dangerous criminals on the island, which is comparable to that of an Old London dungeon, with no lights, windows or colour of any kind, the criminals are left to rot in their own self-depreciating darkness and despair.

Despite the brilliant atmosphere which Scorsese and his cinematographer Richardson cook-up, the films narrative lacks the essence of a Scorsese film and a Lehane novel. At times the extended sequences seem to be dragging the film out, for the sake of dragging it out rather than extending our knowledge of the on-screen surroundings. While DiCaprio is continually on-screen for almost two hours, and during this time his performance starts to wear thin. Which is a consequence of the fact that despite the subtle and quite well refined performances by Ruffalo, Kingsley, Lynch, Levine and Williams, nobody steps forth and offers DiCaprio a supporting hand and because of this, by the end of the film it seems as if he utilizing every last acting bone in his body to complete the film.

It’s pretty much safe to say that Martin Scorsese has not done a ‘bad film’ – subjective phrase - in decades (even if some will debate that he has not created a ‘bad’ film in his entire career, or others that his whole career has been a proliferation Hollywood and the notion of selling-out), and with this film, this principle again applies to his career. While it has its flaws, and is clearly not up to the cinematic value of ‘Taxi Driver’ or ‘Raging Bull’, ‘Shutter Island’ has its own visual essence that resonates throughout two hours, providing the audience –who wish to engage – with a thrilling ride down psychological lane.
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