Director – Martin Scorcese
Starring – Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams
There is a scene almost 3/4 through Shutter Island where a bunch of Nazis who are being walked in a line by U.S. infantry and one of the prisoners breaks ranks and makes a run for it. As Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Daniels, shoots the breakaway prisoner, the rest of the infantrymen immediately begin firing on the rest of the line, all at once directly across from their counterparts. The camera follows the impromptu line of fire going from one end to the other. Each of the prisoners fall in accordance to their place in the center of the frame.
“Why are they all falling in a wave?” my wife asked, knowing the answer.
“Because, they are following the camera, Hon.”
This scene is definitely not representative of Scorcese’s work, but it is a sign of the way things are in this movie. Shutter Island is a cluttered mess of great visuals and aggressive overacting. To go over the plot would be a disservice. There may be a few out there who will not figure out what is going on, but that number will be small. Suffice to say, when two Federal Agents cross Boston Harbor to an island housing the criminally insane in the face of impending hurricane level storm, one might safely conclude that the storm is a metaphor for something else.
Scorcese made a career on building tension through one scene; scene after scene. This movie is no exception. There are scenes like a march through C Ward with a book of matches that are tense enough to keep one on the edge of their seat. Another great scene takes place with DiCaprio and Warden (Ted Levine) that only someone of Scorcese’s skill could achieve.
Problem is, there are plenty of scenes so rich with imagery symbolic of dreams, it is difficult from the onset to determine what is reality and what is a trick of the mind. One might wonder why this is so, but not for very long. This movie pounds you with sweat and desperation. There is not a moment where DiCaprio is breathing normally in the entire piece.
There is a point in some movies when one is pushed to the end of their willing suspension of disbelief. This point is reached too early in this film. At that point, you sit back, look about the screen, and look for things to bide your time. In this case, I took a good look at each of the one-off characters that passed through each disconnected screen. Several great actors make the best of their ability here and that is a pleasure to watch in and of itself. Elias Koteas, Jackie Earle Haley, John Carroll Lynch, Emily Mortimer, Max Von Sydow and Patricia Clarkson all make considerable use of their limited screen time.
Michelle Williams stands out for her particularly intricate work. It might have been working with Scorcese that pushed her, but I think the best days of her career are ahead of her.
Mark Ruffalo has the uncanny ability to blend into every scene and become almost part of the background. His work is undercut somewhat by the obviousness of the plot, but he makes the best of it here.
DiCaprio, for his part, has done better work. His efforts to ratchet up the intensity becomes symbolic for the film, for better or worse. There is no hint of normalcy in his performance, and thereby there is no moment in the film that you are not aware of his true role in the plot.
Scorcese has made some of the best films of all time. Goodfellas, in particular is one of my favorite films. He runs with a different crowd these days, and as a result he has gone from a great director who won few awards to a good director that wins numerous awards. His work with DiCaprio has been quite profitable as well. Shutter Island made a ton of money, and I have no idea why. Name recognition is one thing, but word of mouth is another. These days, I trust word of mouth about as much as the Whisper Down the Lane game.
(** out of *****)