Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shutter Island: A Place Where Miracles Happen

People are going to tell you Shutter Island has a ridiculous plot. They're going to say it amounts to quick entertainment for the culturally inert Saturday afternoon audiences. Maybe they'll tell you things were too predictable, or to the opposite side of the spectrum too confusing. Don't believe it.

I'm not saying Shutter Island is one hundred perfect goofy-proof. There are some downright laughable moments, and the script doesn't lend itself to subtle filmmaking. Luckily for us Scorsese doesn't need that to make a great movie. If Shutter Island can be damned for letting dangerously violent criminals roam dark hallways unsupervised it can be rewarded triply for Leonardo DiCaprio's powerful, pulling-on-heartstrings performance, the creepy, stylized world of the Ashecliffe Institution and a conclusion that elevates everything leading up to it, especially the nearly farfetched moments. For every minor unsatisfaction there are a handful of more noteworthy positives.


It's probably unfair to claim only someone like Scorsese could take a story like Shutter Island's and turn it into the gold it was, but I think it's fair enough. Every aspect of the film is handled with such sincerity that the sillier parts aren't just glanced over, but willingly accepted. Sincerity and expertise. Everyone working on the film was clearly a master at their craft. Scorsese directed a team of crack movie-makers, and the results speak for themselves. I'll speak on their behalf. Take Leonardo. I consider him a fine actor. His past work with Scorsese has been good, and sometimes great. As Federal Marshall Daniels he outdoes himself, giving one of the most evocative performances I've had the pleasure of watching this year.

My formality is bogging me down. What I want to say is that Shutter Island was a fun, well-paced adventure thriller. It's long, but it's well worth it. I've heard complaints that too much time is spent on what in the end could possibly have been done away with. I think this would have jeopardized the emotional impact. The tone would have lost its eerie, the style would have been stripped of its dazzle. The scenes feel so nuanced, and like so much care has gone into them that having seen the brunt of the beast I can't imagine what could be stripped off for time's sake.

When I like just about everything in a movie I find jumping off on points like cinematography or editing to be kind of moot. Giving the film as a whole a standing ovation seems a more apt approach. Shutter Island gets a quadruple-ovation from me. It's Scorsese at his near best, fit snugly in the middle of his greatest achievements, and his good achievements. There is no bad with Martin Scorsese.

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