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Movie Review: Shutter Island (R)

Scary, Scary “Shutter”

by Roxana Hadadi

Absolutely no child should see Martin Scorsese’s latest film, “Shutter Island” – and, based on all the island-themed nightmares I had last night, maybe not that many adults should see it, either.

But while “Shutter Island” is certainly one of the legendary director’s most graphic and emotionally jarring films (yes, that’s keeping “The Departed” and “Taxi Driver” in mind), it suffers at the end because of the ending. The film’s beginning, which promises an unsettlingly thrilling and fantastically complicated work, totally belies its dragged-out ending, which unravels nearly everything Scorsese built until that point.

Sure, the finale makes sense, but it will leave you somewhat unfulfilled and with a vague sense of déjà vu, considering how similar it is to numerous other films (to even list them would be too much info) that have come out in recent years. If you’ve read Lehane’s book, then you obviously won’t be surprised, but if you go into the film blind, its last half-hour or so will leave you wishing for what could have been.

Oh, and there’s also tons of violence and blood and horrible historical concepts far too weighty for any child to handle, such as Nazi death camps and psychosurgeries like lobotomies. It’s obvious from the get-go that this is not a film for kids, and its R rating is a serious one.

The film begins by introducing us to U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio, delivering yet another fine, tortured performance in a Scorsese film), who is traveling by ferry with his new partner, fellow U.S. Marshal Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo, “Where the Wild Things Are”), to Shutter Island, a vast, “Lost”-like rock that is home to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. As Daniels notes, the island only takes the “most violent offenders,” and 66 of the country’s most dangerous and unhinged characters lurk within its three wards – but one of them, Rachel Solanado, has recently escaped, seemingly having “evaporated straight through the walls,” according to the hospital’s chief physician, Dr. John Cawley (a masterfully creepy Ben Kinglsey.)

But while Solanado, who was institutionalized after she drowned her three children, has left only one clue behind – a slip of paper with the words “The law of 4” and “Who is 67?” written on it – it’s Daniels’s and Aule’s job to find her. As hurricane conditions whip the island’s tough terrain – forests and rock-covered cliffs – into a frenzy, the pair attempts to track her down, interviewing the hospital’s staff and patients. Daniels soon realizes, though, that all of their answers seem prepared, and there seems to be a huge cover-up at hand – nevertheless, Daniels and Aule can’t leave, because the awful weather means the ferry can’t come to get them. Instead, they’re stuck.

As the story develops, however, it’s less about the patients (or “prisoners,” as Daniels continuously calls them), and more about Daniels’s own inner turmoil. Dr. Naering (Max von Sydow, “The Tudors”), one of the hospital’s highest-ranked physicians, calls him a man of violence, and though Daniels protests to the label, Naering is kind of right: Daniels served in World War II and is haunted by his experiences there, from the piles of murdered Jews he saw in the Dachau death camp to the Nazi servicemen he killed afterward. Add that to the trauma of losing his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), who died in an apartment fire caused by the deranged Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), who may or may not be the institution’s mysterious 67th patient, and Daniels has got a lot of his mind and numerous different motives driving his actions on Shutter Island.

And for the most part, the film juggles it all quite well. The performances are flawless, and DiCaprio and Kingsley especially shine – the former excels as his character grows increasingly frantic and paranoid, while the latter maintains an icy calm that perfectly fits his role. Plus, Scorsese plunges into new ground with this film, using a sinister, powerful score and numerous special effects, such as someone burning from the inside-out and various hallucinations, to maintain a sense of disturbia that constantly catches viewers off-guard.

But all of that exhilarating build-up evaporates when you get to the end of “Shutter Island” – while it wraps up the film’s various plot threads, is also as expected as it gets. The ride until there is a good one, though, and though the cursing, nudity, violence and grotesque stuff doesn’t make this a film for most people younger than 17, it’s still a basically fulfilling 138 minutes. OK, more like 100 minutes. Scorsese’s good, but he’s not that good.

shutter island


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