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Monday, April 11, 2011

Shutter Island: the movie

A while ago I posted about the novel Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. I hadn't seen the movie then but I finally have.

The film Shutter Island (rated R) is directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, and Michelle Williams. It sticks very closely to the storyline of the novel from which it's adapted, and it can be described in the same words from Publishers Weekly - [It] carries an ending so shocking yet so faithful to what has come before, that it will go down as one of the most aesthetically right resolutions ever written. But as anyone who has read him knows, Lehane, despite his mastery of the mechanics of suspense, is about much more than twists; here, he's in pursuit of the nature of self-knowledge and self-deception, and the ways in which both can be warped by violence and evil.

Critics varied widely on what they thought of the movie - Ebert gave it three and a half stars out of four, A.O. Scott of The New York Times thought it was terrible, and John Anderson at the Wall Street Journal thought it was great.

Here's part of Ebert's review ....

Shutter Island
BY ROGER EBERT / February 17, 2010

[...] Shutter Island, we're told, is a remote and craggy island off Boston, where a Civil War-era fort has been adapted as a prison for the criminally insane. We approach it by boat through lowering skies, and the feeling is something like the approach to King Kong's island: Looming in gloom from the sea, it fills the visitor with dread. To this island travel U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo).

It's 1954, and they are assigned to investigate the disappearance of a child murderer (Emily Mortimer). There seems to be no way to leave the island alive. The disappearance of one prisoner might not require the presence of two marshals unfamiliar with the situation, but we never ask that question. Not after the ominous walls of the prison arise. Not after the visitors are shown into the office of the prison medical director, Dr. Cawley, played by Ben Kingsley with that forbidding charm he has mastered.

It's clear that Teddy has no idea what he's getting himself into. Teddy -- such an innocuous name in such a gothic setting. Scorsese, working from a novel by Dennis Lehane, seems to be telling a simple enough story here; the woman is missing, and Teddy and Chuck will look for her. But the cold, gray walls clamp in on them, and the offices of Cawley and his colleagues, furnished for the Civil War commanding officers, seem borrowed from a tale by Edgar Allan Poe .....

he film's primary effect is on the senses. Everything is brought together into a disturbing foreshadow of dreadful secrets. How did this woman escape from a locked cell in a locked ward in the old fort, its walls thick enough to withstand cannon fire? Why do Cawley and his sinister colleague Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow, ready to play chess with Death) seem to be concealing something? Why is even such a pleasant person as the deputy warden not quite convincingly friendly? (He's played by John Carroll Lynch, Marge's husband in "Fargo," so you can sense how nice he should be.) Why do the methods in the prison trigger flashbacks to Teddy's memories of helping to liberate a Nazi death camp? ......

There are thrilling visuals in "Shutter Island." Another film Scorsese showed his cast was Hitchcock's "Vertigo," and we sense echoes of its hero's fear of heights. There's the possibility that the escaped woman might be lurking in a cave on a cliff, or hiding in a lighthouse. Both involve hazardous terrain to negotiate, above vertiginous falls to waves pounding on the rocks below. A possible hurricane is approaching. Light leaks out of the sky. The wind sounds mournful. It is, as they say, a dark and stormy night. And that's what the movie is about: atmosphere, ominous portents, the erosion of Teddy's confidence and even his identity. It's all done with flawless directorial command. Scorsese has fear to evoke, and he does it with many notes ......

Ebert mentions that a number of critics felt that the story was incomprehensible and that the ending was from out of the blue, and he responds that some people may like the movie better after having seen it a couple of times. I think part of why I liked the movie was that I had already read the book and not only knew what was going on and what was coming, but had a much more intimate knowledge of the main character. I'm not the greatest fan of Leonardo DiCaprio and I wasn't sure he could do right by Teddy, but he actually did an excellent job. Ben Kingsly was very good too. Though it took me a while to become engaged by the film, by the end of it I was very involved .... like the book, I found it disturbing, tragic, and haunting.


Blogger Susan said...

I had a chance to listen to the audio version of the book, but was afraid it would be too suspenseful. (I appear calm, but my nerves are fragile....) I keep hearing what a good writer he is.

7:16 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

I don't really like Scorsese, but I enjoyed Shutter Island. For the most part. I, too, didn't really groove on the ending. It seemed a bit contrived. It was like an extended X-Files, but with a less surprising ending. Perhaps if I hadn't seen the X-Files, IU would have found it more interesting, but it was sort of "Been there, done that."

It would be interesting to read Lehane. I've seen three filmns based on his books. I disliked Mystic River, likie Gone, Baby Gone (and I hated Ben Affleck before that) and thought this one was pretty good.

I like Mark Ruffalo. He was great in The Kid Are All Right.

7:23 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

New laptop. Still trying to get used to the keyboard! What terrible spelling!

7:24 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Susan,

That's what I did - listened to the audio version of the book. It was good and well written - not so much scary as it was disturbing, sad, and tragic. It probably would be rated R/X if it were a movie. The movie actually has less sex/violence/language than the book :)

7:27 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi William,

I haven't read any of his other books but I just ordered one from the library - a mystery.

Yeah - the "Nazi scientists in the US after the war" idea was very X-Files. Also the ideas of lobotomies, psychotropic drugs, and experimentation ... all done in the X-Files. See, it really is the best past tv series :)

7:30 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I like Mark Ruffalo, too. I thought his character in The Kids Are Alright was treated unfairly. I saw him in an erotic movie with Meg Ryan (In the Cut), and that . . . um . . . exposed him to me in a whole new light. :-)

7:36 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

I think it should be All Right (the movie title). LOL

7:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hee :) I wasn't even sure who Mark Ruffalo until I saw Shutter Island.

8:21 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...


X-Files is certainly my favorite past TV series. We're going through the whole nine seasons for the second time, and the episodes hold up really well. Even when you know the outcome. Because the writing in the series was top notch. And the actors were so good and so good together. The myth-arc stuff gets kind of silly and confusing, but overall, it was a great show that covered a lot of interesting topics.


I thought In the Cut was pretty good. Most critics seemed to hate it - like they couldn't handle Meg Ryan doing something so different, which seems totally unfair to her. She was good in it.

Funny, I don't remember Mark Ruffalo "showcasing his talent" in that. I'm sure Alexandra would. She's the one who first pointed him out to me.

5:01 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I bought In the Cut used on eBay, and it turned out to be the unrated version. Meg showed more than Mark, but it was close. The dialogue was right up there, too. I had some problems with the movie (mostly her character), but overall it was a pleasant experience. :-)

Sorry if I hijacked your comments, Crystal!

6:42 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

No -this is good :)

I think Meg Ryan has been in a few movies where she was like that, sort of - Prelude to a Kiss with a young (and handsome) Alex Baldwin, and Proof of Life with a young (and handsome) Russell Crowe :)

1:45 PM  
Blogger Thomas Watson said...

This movie has so many apparent links to a later production called Inception that I had to do double take as to whether it was planned as a prequel to Inception and if Chris Nolan had a hand in it.

3:55 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Now that you mention it, it does sound alike, especially the dead wife theme. Thanks for the comment :)

9:38 AM  

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