Thursday, February 25, 2010

Shutter Island

Martin Scorcese's 'Shutter Island' may not be as praised or praiseworthy as his recent film 'The Departed,' but it is nonetheless a successfully tense viewing experience. Leonardo DiCaprio is, as expected (lately), powerful, almost overwhelming, as the tumultuous marshal Teddy Daniels. He has been sent to investigate the disappearance of a woman on an island off Massachusetts that consists solely of a prison for the criminally insane. On the ride over, he meets his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), and at the institute, he encounters a variety of cryptic doctors and disturbed patients.

Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) appears to be a forward thinking psychiatrist, while the German Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) espouses harsher beliefs about the mad. Between unfruitful interviews, Teddy dreams of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) and recalls the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, of which the fenced in island is eerily reminiscent. Kingsley and von Sydow are reliably subtle. Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson are likewise excellent in very different roles.

Progressively surreal circumstances make both Teddy and the audience increasingly uncomfortable. The surprisingly straightforward ending has been criticized as cheap and predictable. However, it has enough substance to make the viewer consider seeing the film twice.

Problems include one too many smiles by crazy folks. Instead of creepy, they come across as cliche. Also, though visually astounding, flashbacks and dream sequences lack intriguing dialogue. Per usual in adaptations of Dennis Lehane novels (Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River), the love interest is more a foil to the male protagonist than a fully developed character.

The movie's slow pace resembles the similarly scored Stanley Kubrick classic 'The Shining.' Though 'Shutter Island' doesn't reach those heights, it is good in its own right, especially towards the middle of the piece, when viewers don't know what to think or hold on to.