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Our reviewers critique the latest Scorsese/DiCaprio film, ‘Shutter Island’

February 25th, 2010

What was supposed to be Martin Scorsese’s newest masterpiece was nothing more than a predictable film with a B-list-esque storyline.
“Shutter Island,” released on Feb. 19, seemed more like a compilation of the films “Gothika,” “The Green Mile” and the “Blue Lagoon” (minus the love story) than a candidate for the 2011 Academy Awards.
However, I can’t completely blame it on the screenplay– the film was based on a book by Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel.
Taking place in 1954, two U.S. marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane on an island in Mass.  Simultaneously, Daniels is haunted by hallucinations of his dead wife (Michelle Williams) and flashbacks of a Nazi death camp as a WWII soldier. Daniels and Aule run into trouble when a hurricane hits and uncovers a series of sinister human experiments taking place on the island.
Beginning with the two men arriving from adrift a foggy sea, the overly dramatic musical score by Robbie Robertson initially outweighs everything else. I give the score credit for building up suspense, but suspense for what? We were only five minutes into the film at that point.
The intense score remains somewhat persistent throughout. But as the film continues, the audience is left on the edge of their seats due to confusion creating the suspense more so than the ominous and overly dramatic music.
As Daniels and Aule spend more time on Shutter Island, they begin to unravel its secrets – secrets the audience can see coming if they’ve ever watched a movie set in an insane asylum.
A microcosm that epitomizes the utter chaos of the insane mind, the island became a maze for the protagonist as Scorsese consistently shot scenes from a bird’s-eye view.
Visually, I would give this film five stars.  Scorsese’s use of dark greens, grays and browns with sparks of bright red during dramatic scenes allow the audience to become captivated in the imagery and suspense.
The immense and seemingly intimidating three mental hospitals were the staple for the setting, and looked like something right out of WWII Germany.
To my surprise however, the filming locations were at Whittenton Mills Complex in Taunton, Mass. and Medfield State Hospital in Medfield, Mass.
Its illustrative elements were enough to keep audiences enthused, but the plot, should have been more thematic than disturbing. The blood was enough; did we really have to see the multitudes of rats or the drowned children?  I was afraid that after all the gore, I had lost a bit of my sanity.
As much as I’d like to say the outcome was foreseeable, the characters themselves did the best with the little they were given.  Scorsese brought out the best in DiCaprio that we always see, and while it probably won’t win him any Academy Awards, audiences can see his emotion prominent in his acting.
Many will still see the movie for the sole purpose of “Shutter Island” being Scorsese’s fourth film with DiCaprio.
Venture into Scorsese’s gothic world, but remember  that odds are the majority of the audiences will guess the ending before it actually occurs.

“Shutter Island” is a film where the superior acting outweighs the movie itself. Despite the story’s flaws, the cast of the film (especially Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley) effortlessly carry the film with their obvious grasp of great acting.
The story takes place in 1954 at a mental institution for the criminally insane.
When an inmate (Emily Mortimer) inexplicably breaks out of the inescapable fortress of Shutter Island, two U.S. Federal Marshals (DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) are called in to investigate the problem.
But the longer they stay, the more they see there’s something disturbing and possibly life-threatening about the prison and its mysterious chief psychiatrist (Kingsley) that could involve a massive conspiracy.
“Shutter Island” is quite an amazing undertaking for director Martin Scorsese.
For a director best known for intense criminal character studies like “Taxi Driver,” here he has created an honest-to-God, unsettling horror film and does it with power and finesse. Everything about it screams film noir, which hasn’t been this effectively done since Christopher Nolan’s “Memento.”
What made Dennis Lehane’s novel a masterpiece is disappointingly absent from the adaptation.
There is just something missing. The source material was brilliant, especially through its use of ambiguity.
Scorsese gives away the plot by almost handing to the audiences a conventionally clear ending he thought they would like, instead of the ending that would have been more fitting to the Scorsese style.
An ambiguous ending with less spoon-fed exposition would have made all the difference.
The cast (also including Michelle Williams, Cleveland’s Ted Levine and Jackie Earl Haley) make up the best part of the film – the acting.
Both DiCaprio and Kingsley are continuously electrifying to watch, especially together. DiCaprio is especially masterful and carries our interest when the story itself drags.
Now make no mistake: this is DiCaprio’s movie. DiCaprio makes this a performance of a lifetime by throwing in everything he’s capable of as a character actor.
It’s like witnessing a master chef at work, flawlessly putting together the perfect blend of ingredients to make a culinary work of art. He seems to go through every emotion, as if checking off each ingredient necessary for an Oscar nomination.
One scene that should get DiCaprio some award recognition comes in a flashback near the end, where DiCaprio comes home and reacts magnificently to a heart-rending tragedy.
Overall, “Shutter Island” offers more than your ordinary horror. It’s a true portrait of depravity and desperation of the human condition disguised as a thriller the average audience can swallow.
While this may be a lower-class Scorsese film, it’s still more enjoyable than most films today.
It’s a well-written classical look at noir horror, filled with energy and excitement. The suspense is breathtakingly effective.
Every scene builds on the mystery and each answer comes with more harrowing questions. The problem is we never get the payoff we’re waiting for.