Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Shutter Island

After finally nabbing an Oscar for Best Director for his 2006 remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs entitled The Departed. Martin Scorsese was now part of a group of great directors who won the Oscar after trying to get the award several times. Scorsese took a break from feature films to direct a concert film for the Rolling Stones entitled Shine a Light in 2008 while producing various other projects including a restoration of the 1949 Powell-Pressburger classic The Red Shoes. In 2010, Scorsese returned to the big screen for a psychological thriller entitled Shutter Island.

Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, Shutter Island tells the story of two U.S. marshals investigating a mental hospital where a patient has vanished. Upon the investigation, one of the marshals is haunted by the images of his dead wife as he believes her killer is in the island. Directed by Martin Scorsese with a script by Laeta Kalogridis along with additional work by Steven Knight. The film marks Scorsese’s fourth collaboration with actor Leonardo DiCaprio as they create a thriller that is both visually fascinating and intriguing in its story. Also starring Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Elias Koteas, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, and Max von Sydow. Shutter Island is an intriguing yet haunting film from Martin Scorsese and company.

It’s 1954 as two U.S. marshals named Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are going to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient at a mental hospital known as Ashecliffe. Accompanied by deputy warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch), the duo meets Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who explains about the patient named Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) who had disappeared. Solando was brought in after drowning her three kids as Daniels and Aule try to interview staff members along with some patients. When Daniels want to know more by going to Cawley’s colleague Dr. Jeremiah Naehring (Max von Sydow) for more information. Daniels is rebuffed as he is troubled by headaches that feature flashbacks of his period in war along with the images of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams).

With Daniels and Aule continuing their investigation during a stormy day at the island, Daniels reveals his motive to why he’s really at the island believing that a man named Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas) is at the island. Daniels believes that Laeddis was responsible for his wife’s death through arson as Daniels is also convinced of some experiments going on. With the two continuing their investigation, Rachel Solando has been found and is safe though the interrogation with Solando proves to be strange. With Daniels more troubled by his migraines and appearances of his wife along with Laeddis, Daniels goes on the search for more about Ashecliffe. In the aftermath of a bad storm where patients are out of the hospital, Daniels goes into the fortress where the most dangerous prisoners are held.

Daniels suddenly meets a man named George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley) whom Daniels had tried to help. Realizing that Noyce had given him clues about the mysterious lighthouse, Daniels along with Aule try to find a path to the lighthouse where the two got separated. Aule disappears while Daniels meets a mysterious woman (Patricia Clarkson) at a cave who reveals more about the secrets of the island. With Daniels being picked up by the hospital’s warden (Ted Levine), Daniels confronts Dr. Cawley about what is going on as he decides to go to the lighthouse where he finds a shocking discovery.

The film is about a man trying to uncover mysteries about his wife’s death as well as the island where they’re keeping her killer who is possibly being part of a strange experiment. Yet, that’s the film’s plot in a nutshell but in the mind of Martin Scorsese. It’s anything but simple as it’s a film that is really a puzzle of sorts of what is really going on in the island and the people in the island. No character is who they say they are with a few exceptions. It’s all because there is something at the island that no one wants to explain right until the third act where there’s a twist involved.

Screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis creates a wonderful script that builds on the suspense of the story along with the back-and-forth movements of the story where Teddy Daniels is having flashbacks or strange dreams. The flashbacks and dreams play up to the film’s surreal style as it would unveil clues to what’s going on. The characters are also very interesting as Daniels’ partner Chuck acts as a foil of sorts but also a conscience who wants to be at Daniels’ side with everything that is happening. Dr. Cawley might seem like an antagonist since he’s always evading questions along with Dr. Naehring. All of the minor characters Daniels would interact along with the visions of Dolores would eventually lead to the twist.

The twist would definitely change all perspectives of what everyone just saw the first time around. When it is seen again for the second time, more clues are unveiled along with pieces of dialogue and how they’re presented. Overall, it’s a wonderful screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis.

Then, there’s the direction of Martin Scorsese which is truly powerful and engaging in its imagery. Taking an old-school approach to the directing, Scorsese goes for eerie zoom shots along with dolly tracks to create a mood for the film. Even as he creates wide shots for an idea of the island and its dark feel where something doesn’t seem right. Scorsese also goes for an intimate setting for some of the film’s interrogation and conversation pieces where he goes for simplicity in the presentation.

For some of the film’s broader scenes at the island, Scorsese uses some visual effects which are rich in its look. For the most part, they all look great except for one scene where Daniels is talking with the warden on the jeep as the background looks very fake. For many of the film’s fantasy sequences, Scorsese creates a look that is artificial and dream-like while playing up to the surrealism of the film. When it comes time for the twist, Scorsese makes sure that the dialogue that people heard early along with objects including the bandage in Teddy’s head early in the film mean something. Plus, Scorsese also allows a chance to put in a few references in objects such as the red shoes worn by the little girl (Ruby Jerins) as a reference to the Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger film The Red Shoes. Despite a few flaws, it is a wonderfully stunning yet eerie film from Martin Scorsese.

Cinematographer Robert Richardson does a fantastic job with the film’s eerie yet colorful cinematography. Richardson’s work definitely plays to the film’s chilling mood with lots of dark colors to match the rainy scenes in the exteriors. Even in the prison where the lights are very stylish and moody to build up to the film’s suspense. Richardson’s photography is truly one of the film’s technical highlights for the way it brings atmosphere to the film.

Longtime Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker does an excellent job with the film’s editing. Schoonmaker creates dazzling cuts to play with the film’s rhythm and build on its suspense. Even as she utilizes a few jump-cuts for rhythm while playing to the conversation scenes in cutting from one actor to another. Even in the transitions as Schoonmaker’s cutting is truly some of her best work in her career as an editor.

Production designer Dante Ferretti, along with set decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo and supervising art director Robert Guerra, does a fabulous job with the look of Ashecliffe hospital from its old-school wall filled with bricks including the decayed lighthouse. The look of the prison inside the hospital is eerie as it looks old and almost in ruins to help play up the film’s eerie tone. Costume designer Sandy Powell does a phenomenal job with the costumes from the clothes that Daniels and Aule wear early in the film to the suits that Dr. Cawley wears. Even in the colorful dresses that Dolores wears that plays true to the style of the 1950s.

Visual effects supervisor Rob Legato does a very good job with the visual effects from the lush look of the island in exteriors during the rainy season to the look of the flashback sequences where the effects play up to the Daniels‘ own troubled mind. Sound editors Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty do some brilliant work in the sound from the feel of the storm along with the stark yet near-silent tone of the prison that Daniels investigate.

Music supervisor Robbie Robertson creates an amazing soundtrack that is filled with an array of eerie classical pieces that plays to the film’s suspense. Featuring classical pieces from Gustav Mahler, John Cage, Krzysztof Penderecki, Ingram Marshall, and Gyorgy Ligeti. The soundtrack also includes pieces from 1950s music like Kay Starr, Dinah Washington, Max Richter along with an ambient track from Brian Eno. The soundtrack is an excellent collection that plays well with what the film needed for its tone.

The casting by Ellen Lewis is superb as every actor in the film really hits the right notes. Notable small roles include Robin Bartlett as a patient Daniels and Aule interrogate, Ruby Jerrins as a mysterious little girl in Teddy’s dreams, Elias Koteas as the crazed Andrew Laeddis, and Ted Levine as sly warden who talks to Teddy about the island. Other small but memorable roles include Emily Mortimer as the troubled Rachel Solando, John Carroll Lynch as deputy warden McPherson, Jackie Earle Haley as the crazed George Noyce, and Max von Sydow as the calm but mysterious Dr. Naehring. Patricia Clarkson is excellent in a small role as mysterious woman in a cave who warns Daniels about Shutter Island and its lighthouse.

Michelle Williams is radiant as Dolores, Teddy’s deceased wife who appears in Teddy’s dreams and other visions as she guides him to unlock the mysteries of the island. Williams brings a sense of grace but also darkness of a character that isn’t even alive as she and DiCaprio have wonderful chemistry. Ben Kingsley is superb as Dr. Crawley, a mysterious doctor who reluctantly helps Teddy with the investigation while holding something back about what is going on. Mark Ruffalo is phenomenal as Chuck Aule, Teddy’s partner who helps in the investigation as Ruffalo plays the sidekick as well as conscience of sorts for Teddy. Even as help brings in some clues to the mysteries while being the guy to calm everyone down.

Leonardo DiCaprio is in top form as Teddy Daniels. DiCaprio brings a eerie quality to his performance as a troubled man trying to investigate a disappearance while hoping to expose the hospital for its experiments. There is a grittiness to DiCaprio’s performance as he’s someone worn down and disturbed by his own nightmares along with images of his wife appearing. While it may not top some of his previous collaborations with Martin Scorsese, DiCaprio does create a compelling yet engaging performance as Teddy Daniels.

Shutter Island is an excellent yet entrancing film from Martin Scorsese. While it may not top his recent films like The Aviator or The Departed along with other classic Scorsese films. It is still a remarkable achievement from a master like Scorsese who can still pull off some amazing tricks. Even as fans will be able to enjoy in what he can do with a suspense thriller that is presented with a lot of style. Featuring a great cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, it’s a film that is like a great puzzle that when seeing it for the second time. It becomes more intriguing as Shutter Island is another wonderful achievement from Martin Scorsese.

© thevoid99 2011


Anonymous said...

Everybody was so against this film because it wasn't up to par with other Scorsese films, but I think it shows that relentless bravery that he has, as he explores more creepy, and psychological themes. Leo is also amazing in this, and always does a good job no matter what he's given. Good Review!

Andy Buckle said...

Great review Steven. I really loved Shutter Island, and I was the one who got sucked into the story and failed to believe the final twist, until it was jammed down my throat. I was convinced that Leo was right haha. The second viewing, when you watch it knowing the true nature of events, is very intriguing, and a lot of fun as you think throughout: "how didn't I see this before?" Stunning cinematography, an excellent screenplay, and fine performances from the cast, especially Leo, Ruffalo and Kingsley. It was a shame to see it overlooked at the Oscars.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-Marty is a master filmmaker and probably the one of 3 American filmmakers who are definitely the best at what they do (the other 2 are Gus Van Sant and Terrence Malick). He knows what to do with any kind of genre and he's learned from the best. Leo of course, is phenomenal. To think, the good-looking kid from Titanic that guys hated is now a kick-ass actor.

@Andy-I like think of the film as a puzzle of sorts and with I think a second and third viewing really allows the viewer to see something they didn't see before. There's more clues in every frame that Scorsese is doing. Unlike Shyamalan who is all about gimmicks. Scorsese isn't trying to play with the audience like that as he's more interested in the story and characters.

I know Mark Ruffalo got an Oscar nod for The Kids are All Right but I think he's much better in this film. Especially for the fact that his character is a sidekick until the ending. We realize what he's doing.

Thanks for the comments guys.