Scorsese's "Island" of madness

Feb. 24, 2010, 8:40 a.m. | By Warren Zhang | 12 years, 2 months ago

Legendary director Martin Scorsese pilots an intense psychological thriller

Director Martin Scorsese is well-lauded for master-minding landmark films like "Taxi Driver" and "Goodfellas." With his newest project, he successfully engineers a follow-up to his critically lauded crime-thriller "The Departed," an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's "Shutter Island," that was an immensely, captivating psychological suspense flick, much in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan's thrillers.

"Shutter Island" is a combination of horror and suspense – imagine a blend of "Cape Fear" and "The Sixth Sense." Miraculously, it works. The plot follows duly appointed federal marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo Dicaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient (Emily Mortimer) in the mental facility located on the titular Shutter Island. Once the marshals reach the island, the doctors, led by the charismatic John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), prove to be a massive hindrance as they uncover a massive conspiracy involving Nazis and human experimentation.

"Shutter Island" manages to elevate a potentially mundane, low-rate horror story and transform it into a nail-biting journey into the psyche or perhaps insanity of the lead characters. After the rather slow opening sequence, the unpredictable plot shifts until the entire story unravels and provides myriad of poignant surprises.

Accompanying the plot twists towards the spectacular finale are beautiful production values. The fictional Shutter Island is aptly created as a dark, foreboding structure, filled to the brim with secrets and a dark history. The film's cinematography generates extraordinary shots of the Atlantic Ocean crashing onto the cliffs and Civil War-era structures that border Shutter Island. Visuals seamlessly match the storytelling to create the grim sense of premonition and chaos that Dicaprio's character experiences. Brief flashbacks to Daniels' life illuminate his traumatic encounters while light is manipulated to reveal and distort events in a subtle manner.

Adding to the intensity of "Shutter Island," the lead actors render spectacular performances. Dicaprio performs arguably a crowning performance. Other than a lousy Boston accent, Dicaprio is utterly convincing as Daniels from the way he interacts with the doctors and his partner to the way he reacts to his vivid dreams of his World War II experiences. Kingsley is similarly excellent in his creepy role as the Victor Frankenstein of the island. He manages to simultaneously be charming and menacing, meshing well with Dicaprio's frenzied portrayal.

Yet "Shutter Island" needed to have scaled back on some elements. A few of the characters, namely the patients, are over-dramatic. Smaller characters tend to feel like caricatures rather than real, vulnerable people. The music score is perfectly perfunctory and not much else. The script also has some flaws: the pacing is uneven and some scenery like the Holocaust flashback sequences is too numerous and borderline offensive.

Despite these flaws, Scorsese's direction is as solid as ever and gives a refreshing spin to "Shutter Island." Although it may not rank as one of Scorsese's most deep and thought provoking pieces, "Shutter Island" is nonetheless an entertaining and cunning adaptation. It's certainly a flashy solution to the mush of romantic, February films.

"Shutter Island” (138 minutes) is rated R for disturbing content, language and some nudity. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Tags: Review

Warren Zhang. Warren Zhang is Silver Chips Print's charismatic stallion of a news editor and ombudsman. He enjoys being awesome and reviewing (read: destroying) movies in his spare time. More »

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