Shutter Island
Reviewed in February 2010 / Click Here to Comment
Director: Martin Scorsese. Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, John Carroll Lynch, Jackie Earle Haley, Elias Koteas, Ruby Jerins, Patricia Clarkson, Robin Bartlett, Ted Levine, Nellie Sciutto, Joseph McKenna, Christopher Denham, Curtiss Cook, Joseph Sikora. Screenplay: Laeta Kalogridis (based on the novel by Dennis Lehane).
Twitter Capsule: Undercooked scenario in grotesque grapple with overbaked presentation; Clarkson survives, Scorsese drowns

Photo © 2010 Paramount Pictures
A farrago, sometimes in a way that's easy to indulge, but you still wind up uncertain which makes less sense: the bonkers narrative we think we're watching (though we're never exactly fooled) or the climactic explanations. As if the gangrenous photography isn't off-putting enough, the disastrous marriage of over-plotting to self-undermining "suspense" becomes awfully hard to take. About two flat or wobbly performances for every solid one; only Clarkson remains fully unscathed, but Haley, Levine, Lynch, and Meryl's former detox roommate Robin Bartlett at least acquit themselves. Sadly, a horrible case of reverse-proportion mandates that the actors with the largest parts give the weakest performances, including yet another limp outing from DiCaprio, who's starting to seem Swankish: i.e., nearly irredeemable unless every single other element is working perfectly around him, which it certainly isn't here. Soundtrack lets us know how it would sound if you used an entire sequoia as the bow for your cello, and is overmixed and appallingly literal to boot, though I did like the death-crawl version of Dinah Washington's "This Bitter Earth" oozing over the final credits.

Production design is both over-elaborate and annoyingly unclear. One crucial location has been selected for maximal difficulty of access in case you’re a paranoid schizophrenic fugitive attempting to sneak in, but it sure involves a lot of trouble for other folks who need to access it for more mundane, workaday reasons. The worst kinds of red herrings, like a bad case of creeping palsy in a film whose conflicts should be cognitive, set in at exactly the most dunder-headed moments, as when a character is about to perform heroic acts of impromptu rock-scaling. Logical outrages aside, emotional claims verge on zero. Film finishes with a 10-minute sequence by a lakeside that manages to be gratuitous in the two worst ways: narratively unnecessary, since we already know what's happened, and supremely untactful, since it comes across as an exercise in killing off some kids and letting some actors over-emote their reactions to obscene events, dotingly repackaged as thrill-ride climaxes. But if you think that's bad, wait till you get to Dachau. Between the garish and cheap interpolation of the camps as backstory and the dada obsession with callow or meaningless citations of other films (by Powell and Pressburger, by Hitchcock, by Antonioni, et al.), I think we can assume that Scorsese is a Basterds fan. Which, from me, is no compliment, but at least Tarantino's movie has (misplaced, inconsistent, bloodthirsty) guts. Shutter's just got ghosts, including the specter of whatever this Cadillac cast and crew must have thought they were joining forces to make. Grade: D+

VOR: (3)   (What is this?)
Scorsese's unabashedness with high style and his ability to lure actors and technicians alike to attempt almost anything makes his movies feel like events. Even the somewhat staggering ill-considered, tawdrily "commercial" quality of Shutter Island is more interesting for being the product of this director, though obviously others will react more hospitably than I did, and there's little to rival it as a winter-season conversation piece. Whatever else you say about Shutter Island, it certainly invites debate.

National Board of Review: Best Production Design (Dante Ferretti)

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