Poll: IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Shutter Island

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{No audio this week, still adjusting to the new work schedule.}

I'm sure that most of the people reading this review have at least one dog-eared copy of a paperback novel lying around somewhere. Let me ask you something: why have you read that book more than once? I'm willing to hazard a guess. Even though you know how the story ends, the telling of the story is still a worthwhile and entertaining experience. That, in a nutshell, is how I would describe Shutter Island.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Set in the mid-50s, the eponymous island is home to an asylum for the criminally insane. One of the inmates has escaped and there's a gigantic hurricane bearing down on Boston. Enter US Marshall Teddy Daniels and new partner Chuck Aule, arriving on the island just before the storm. As much as their primary purpose is to find the missing crazy woman, Daniels is also looking for something, or someone, else. And on this island, it seems like everybody has something to hide, including Teddy himself.

Now, it's a year on from when this movie came out, and it's highly likely you've at least seen a trailer, or gotten the twist ending spoiled for you. No, I'm not going to spoil it here, but even if you have figured out how this one is going to end, that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it. Like that beloved paperback, Shutter Island is less about telling a new story and more about telling a good one. And cinematic storytellers don't come much better than Martin Scorsese.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Some of these visuals are just stunning.

It's no secret Scorsese has an eye for talent. He's worked with editor Thelma Schoonmaker since Raging Bull. He made eight films with Robert DeNiro, including the aforementioned Raging Bull which DeNiro convinced Scorsese to do for reasons that may have saved the director's life. And here, in Shutter Island, we have his fourth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio. Once again, Scorsese gives Leo an opportunity to show his chops as a wise-cracking tough guy, an emotionally scarred and troubled man, an intelligent detective and even a veteran. Pulling off these disparate beats while keeping the character consistent and compelling is no mean feat, but DiCaprio inhabits his role perfectly.

In addition to this strong lead, Shutter Island features a fantastic supporting cast of character actors. While Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams do a great deal of the heavy lifting in this tale, there are some small or even one-scene performances that stick out in one's mind, speaking to the power of these actors in their roles. Ted Levine, Jackie Earl Haley and Elias Kostas do such a fantastic job nailing their characters down in just a handful of lines - or, in Kostas' case, about two lines and some very effective leering - that they're likely to be remembered long after the credits roll.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Forgive me, it's Sir Ben Kingsley.

All of this great acting is framed in the extremely atmospheric setting of Shutter Island itself. Between the old Civil War construction, the archaic equipment and the period dress of the 1950s, the film takes on a noir detective feeling that works as a great, concrete counterpoint to the psychological horror that is the crux of the narrative. As much as Daniels begins to question and cling to his sanity, so does the audience attempt to hold onto the mystery as it was introduced, even as a new mystery slowly emerges to take its place. Granted, some viewers will have seen the 'new' mystery coming from the beginning, but as I said before, this is a yarn more concerned with telling the tale well than the tale being told.

In that aspect, the only real flaw that can be pointed out in Shutter Island is the nature of the plot that makes the twist at the end, in some measure, predictable. For a movie that seems to be aiming to be equal parts Inception and old carnival spook house (a comparison that wouldn't have made sense when the movie came out), the lack of screenplay contrivance can seem incongruous, like it's too straight-forward in the telling. The film, however, plays this weakness as a strength, making the plot just about the least important thing about it. The talent, artistry, atmosphere and characters completely overwhelm the plot and construct a very good storytelling experience. It belongs on your Netflix queue if you're a fan of any of these actors, detective stories right at home in a Lovecraft anthology, old-fashioned head-screwy horror or, it goes without saying, Martin Scorsese. The man's proven over and over that his talent for telling stories through film is peerless, and Shutter Island is no exception.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Re: your poll, I think you're going to wring the most enjoyable review out of The Prophecy. I mean, I think we all know how we feel about Blazing Saddles by this point, and doing two puzzle movies in a row is a little gimmicky, so the Prestige is out, and frankly Judge Dredd is just beyond critique. Opinions!

OT: I severely dug Shutter Island. You're 100% correct: the plot itself is almost the least important part of this film. The atmosphere and characters take center stage, and even if it isn't the most outrageous twist in cinema history, you're so wrapped up by the end that you don't even care.

The tragedy of a film like this is that once word gets out there's a twist, the audience will immediately start trying to outsmart the movie they're watching, and when that happens something gets lost. They aren't watching to be taken on a ride anymore, they're watching to try and preventbeing taken on a ride.

That's fine for a subsequent viewing, in fact I recommend it, where you can try and pick up on any and all clues to the eventual twist. But you miss so much by investigating the movie you're watching for the first time! don't worry about being clever enough to "see it coming," people! enjoy the ride!

saintchristopher:
don't worry about being clever enough to "see it coming," people! enjoy the ride!

Absolutely. It's been several months but I can still remember some of the surreal flashbacks and how hauntingly beautiful they were. I also think this movie suffered a little bit from misleading advertising. It was advertised as a gritty detective movie and it pretty quickly leaves that behind for a head trip that does in some ways mimic the yet unreleased Inception. Overall a movie I'd recommend and for the record I loved the ending and the implications that can be derived from it. Also very good review as usual.

 

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