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3.03.2010

Shutter Island

After thinking about this film for a few days, I think its impact improves with time. My initial reaction was disappointment. I left the theater feeling like Martin Scorsese had attempted a serious film that touched on the nature of grief and madness, but with so many narrative arcs to tie together the piece had spun beyond his control.

On that point, my initial feelings persist. From WWII concentration camps to deadly apartment fires and all the attendant ghosts that populate those stories, it just felt disjointed.

But where I've changed my tune is on the film's attention to mise-en-scene and setting. The photograph in this post is a still taken from the opening scene. Federal Marshalls Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, respectively) share smokes and a few terse words on their journey to the secretive mental lockdown facility, Shutter Island. It struck me in the theater as a perfect opening scene.

Scorsese uses a green screen to create the background. It provided just the right touch--that sense of falsity juxtaposed with men having a serious talk--of gritty film noir. In some ways, I felt like I was watching the cab scene in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront. He marries that shot to a realistic look at an approach to the titular island, and he had me hooked.

The island is immaculately and mysterious. The guards, orderlies, doctors and patients are all, in their way, just a little "off." And then there's Daniels. Jeanne told me later that she thinks DiCaprio often overacts; she said it always takes her a few moments to get used to him and then she sees his talent. I can buy that. He's pretty intense, but I like his work a lot. I think he's one of the best in the business.

In terms of the film's feel, it's all washed-out grays and muted whites. It looks like an island in the Puget Sound, and I dare you not to feel cold when Leo goes looking for Chuck on the rocks.

And in this one, Leo's at his flinching, surly, anxious best--all shoulder shrugs, paranoia and darting eyeballs. And there's that bandage on his forehead which, for all the rain and physical mishaps he endures, never seems to fall off. He's seeing things (the ashed wife scene is visually captivating) and his ability to deal with the island's medical personnel is, at best, barely effective.

So, just who is in control here?

No spoilers from me, but I will say that the film's third act is extremely hard to look at. It addresses postpartum depression in a way that will haunt audiences long after they leave the theater. Overall this film is a 'B', and I almost feel too generous in giving it that mark. Still, there's something going on here and I think I'll be interested to look at it again here in a few months when it finds its way to DVD.

They're running out the trailers on Clash of the Titans, and I can only hope they do it justice. Louis Laterrier did a solid job with 2008's Hulk film, so I'm hopeful...

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