Plot Summary from IMDB:
It’s 1954, and up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston’s Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital. He’s been pushing for an assignment on the island for personal reasons, but before long he wonders whether he hasn’t been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister. Teddy’s shrewd investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals “escape” in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, Teddy begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, even his own sanity.
Now that no one will partake in this review due to the spoilers I can pretty much be as candid as I want. It is quite a drag when you walk out of America’s greatest living filmmaker’s latest effort and all you can say is “It’s good, but lame.” Shutter Island is just that: good, but lame. Why good? Martin Scorsese’s style and ability to tell a story is just as sharp as ever. There is a lot of very effective, yet puzzling camera work, editing and story injections that feel fresh and give this movie the only leg it has to stand on. Why lame? We’ve seen it all before. Scorsese’s biggest flub here is simply using the source material (once again, I haven’t read it, but I’m going to assume.) He can try his best(est) to infuse all that beloved style into a giant hunk of yesterday’s rotted fruit, and the end product will still be moldy peaches.
If Dennis Lehane’s book is anything like the film, then I guess it’s the literary offspring of an orgy between The Wickerman (1973), David Fincher’s The Game, and M. Night Shyamalan’s entire cranium. It’s 2010 people…twists are lame, especially mental illness twists. I’m not being hard on the flick for plagiarism, not at all, what I am saying is that there isn’t one theme or story element in this entire production that we haven’t seen so many times before that they already haven’t been parodied. I guess the hope is that Shutter Island, with it’s cast and director reputation, will do a 180 on the parody/criticism and bring back these themes to being too legit to quit (no reference intended.)
Did no one on set ever see Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s brilliant Adaptation? Remember how one of the huge jokes in that movie was that Nic Cage’s character Donald Kaufman was a writing a script where a detective was chasing a serial killer and in the end it turns out that the killer is him, THE DETECTIVE!!! (WHAT A TWIST!) The joke was, if you didn’t get it, that twists like that are lame, lamer than lame even. It’s the whole stigma of the Hollywood “dream solution.” You can theoretically end every movie and TV show with the plot twist that it was all a dream/mental illness happening in a character’s head. It’s not creative; it’s stupid and disrespectful to the audience. Vanilla Sky was a pretty cool flick, all right up until we get “oh it was just a dream, everything you were invested in was nonsense…ok roll credits!” How about the ending of Roseanne or St. Elsewhere…so everything we were watching every week was just in someone’s head? THAN WHY TELL THE STORY! If anything, at least M. Night’s twists were marginally respectful to the investment the viewer put into his characters, with that said, he is almost single handedly responsible for making the “twist” lame, and he spent a whole decade making sure it stayed that way (and I like some of his work, but truth is truth.)
*********HERE COME THE MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILERS*******
So what’s the twist? What’s the dream? What is the obvious, makes-you-pray-while-watching-it-that-it’s-not-the-twist-twist? Leonardo’s character, a U.S. Marshall assigned to investigate the disappearance of a female inmate, responsible for murdering her three kids, is actually AN INMATE HIMSELF AND A MURDER AND THE FEMALE WAS HIS WIFE AND HE’S A GHOST!!! Ok, not a ghost, but the other parts are really the twist of the movie. Lame right? This movie’s plot twist would have been lame in the late ‘90s, now it’s just utterly pathetic.
What really hurts is that DiCaprio’s delusion, where there’s a conspiracy at the mental hospital in which it’s being controlled by Nazis/Communists who are turning people into crazy psychopathic “ghost” killers and releasing them back into society, is way more interesting than the outcome. Not to brag, but I could feel the twist coming from a mile away, so the movie had me sitting there, begging for it not to turn the corner and not to become a “dream solution.”
Enough whipping the movie for its twist, besides that, there is actually quite a lot to love. As I said above, Scorsese is still such a sharpened talent that he almost makes the film rise above its last act. There are quite a few scene’s of Teddy (DiCaprio) having flashbacks to his service in WW2 in which he witnessed, and participated in, the killing of several Nazi’s and the gruesome result of a concentration camp: train cargo cars overflowing with frozen, rotting Jewish innocents. These scenes are just as disturbing as one would assume due to the history, plus more on top due to how well they are handled. The good news is that these flashbacks are not “completely” part of the delusion. Basically Teddy was suffering from a pretty severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from WW2, which in turn led to him being an alcoholic, which in turn made him neglect the realization that his wife was mentally ill, which in turn led to her murdering their three children, at which point teddy has a fully formed mental breakdown and kills his wife which lands him in a criminally violent mental hospital for two years right up to when we, the audience, join the story. So, in Shutter Island’s defense, some of his delusions are real, they are just scrambled up, him confusing his guilt of one thing for another.
The other saving grace is the cast. DiCaprio is in top form here and he really does one of the best jobs of his career in carrying a movie. Ten years ago I was not sold on DiCaprio, he was just a sellout pretty boy (it seemed,) but by now I am fully convinced of his chops, and am very much in support of his this constant, and fruitful, team-up of him and Scorsese. DiCaprio’s shining moment in the film, in my humble opinion, is a long conversation he has with the character George Noyce (Jackie Earl Haley, wonderful as always, in a bit part) in which he is trying to find the location, on the island, of his wife’s killer. Mark Ruffalo plays a pretty convincing sidekick and fellow U.S. Marshall through out the film, of course by the end we learn he’s actually Teddy’s primary care physician. Of course you can’t go wrong with Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow (better known as Brewmeister Smith to all you hosers,) two men so regal and talented in their delivery that they could make Dane Cook’s stolen jokes sound poetic. There’s even a very short, but pivotal, scene starring Elias Koteas (Casey Jones!) as a character completely cooked up by Teddy’s delusion. It’s a small scene, however it’s nice to see Koteas act under Scorsese, hopefully it won’t be the last time.
I’ll say this, I’m glad I saw the movie, lame twist and all, if not only for the acting and Scorsese’s direction. Is it worth the $87 ticket price (not adjusted for inflation)? No clue. However, while it’s lame, it’s less lame than most chick flicks. Seeing Nazis get brutally shot, even for only a minute, is way more satisfying, financially worthy, and cathartic than the banality of seeing a movie about Valentines Day.*
*If Garry Marshall’s Valentines Day is in anyway about Nazis or killing Nazis, I stand corrected. I haven’t seen it.
Thanks for reading, I’m Bob Rose, and this sentence is over.
One Response to “Opinion In A Haystack: SHUTTER ISLAND”
Leave a Reply