Friday, 12 March 2010
Shutter Island (2010)
(Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010)
Don't invest so much hope in Shutter Island this Spring. The director's name should never matter and though this is one more terrific, addictive creation, I simply can not gauge it. Certainly no star-rating is applicable: I exited longing to head this review with five bold stars for its opaque grief and psychosis but, at the same time, it frustrates by haphazardly juggling politics, theology, Cartesianism and Agatha Christie mystery. Where Rene Clair's 1944 adaptation of Christie's And Then There Were None is a simple tickle, this year's island yarn is swollen with labyrinth-horror and orchestra. It is unsurprising that so many critics have dismissed this season's most eagerly anticipated picture as a two-and-a-half-hour B-movie.
It is impossible to elucidate the plot without a spolier, but it begins with Teddy Daniels (Di Caprio) and partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), US Marshals, arriving at Shutter Island, home to three psychiatric wards for homicidal mental health patients / criminals; the tension in the punctuation between these two terms is the movie's (feeble) moral dilemma, maintained until the very last frame. Di Caprio is a (young) widower and Second World War veteran who oversaw the liberation of a concentration camp. Now, on Shutter Island, he is supposed to be investigating the disappearance of a missing patient. But increasingly suspicious of head psychiatrist Ben Kingsley, his role on the island is hastily obscured.
We are teased by glimpses of Scorsese at his sagacious best, and as early as the film's opening chapter, we begin to live through Di Caprio's nightmare. The harrowing visuals of the placated patients on the hospital's front lawn, raking the leafless grass or (pictured above) hushing through the already silence, do well to justify a whelming audio. Soon after, in a dream-sequence of Virgilian skill, Di Caprio holds a phantom of his dead wife in his arms as they are rained on by a green confetti of leaves. This, before he despairs as she disappears from his dubious perception. Despite its $80 million budget, this invention of set piece points more towards art film than blockbuster hit. What we know is that this is no tormented genius at work. Shutter Island is the product of an assured, comfortable book-writer and film-maker, tempted by a plot twist that struggles to salvage its bloated bulk.
The atmosphere, the score and Di Caprio are as powerful as the astonishing trailer showcased. But there are flaws; flaws beyond the expendable hyperbole and woodenly acted patients. In flippant contrast to his masterpiece (and the definitive thriller of the noughties), The Departed, Scorsese's directing in Shutter Island is neither abrupt nor taut. What pauses us from our orderly breathing is jumpy popcorn drama. For instance, when Di Caprio lights a match every ten seconds to a score of Hitchcockian strings as he slowly passes by the cells of deformed killers, or when rushing through corridors or up spiralled staircases, the frantic frames become borish, their discomfort a cramp.
That Shutter Island refers itself to as incongruous a pair of films as Kubrick's The Shining and Hitchcock's Vertigo makes its open-wound, critical fault, gape. Are we supposed to be recalling Jack Nicholson's sick eyes during a chase in the snow, or Kim Novak and her ironic fall? Perhaps we are waiting for an intervention by FBI helicopters or grimacing that something more American Pyscho than Psycho is about to transpire and soak the camera face with blood and entrails? Di Caprio's Ballardian flashbacks to his concentration camp experience, the theological contemplations, and the pencil characterisation of deranged patients suggest too many influences crammed. There are just too many ideas at work here, even for Martin Scorsese.
Considering its chilling ambiance and set-design, and the trail-blazing collaborative CV of Scorsese and Di Caprio, this project promised so much more than it has delivered. Shutter Island is an intelligent movie-goer's Avatar 3D in the sense that we are invited into an authentic, new landscape which this director can support with both intriguing subject-matter and a plausible script. I hope, though doubt, a second viewing will straighten out my indecision on this one. Dennis Lehane's story, from which the screenplay was adapted, is less complex than what it purports to be, and its rewards are too infrequent for this marathonic distance.
A virtue unique to film is that unlike live sport, music or even theatre, the audience can not actively participate at any moment. I love to be a part of a crowd that loses control when I go to White Hart Lane or a gig, but at the movies it's the moving image, myself and my time. When a film finishes, the actors cannot hear their audience clap, will not bow or curtsy and wave. For the two and a half hours in a Scorsese picture - and this is his magnificence - the shutters rattle and flash between these two distinct worlds. We drink in fiction, fiction refills, however disturbing and enticing in equal measure. And even if the twist in Shutter Island fails to surprise or satisfy, a hero and a brave director's imagery flourish in a medium fit for the sublime: intelligent Hollywood.