CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SHUTTER ISLAND
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
CUT TO: THE SOUND OF THE WIND HOWLING
(SCÈNE: the grounds of a menacing-looking mental hospital on an isolated island. A storm is brewing and the wind is building strength, as rain clouds threaten to release their bounty. Our intrepid reviewers, MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES have arrived on the scene. An armed guard greets them.)
GUARD: What would you fellers be wanting around these parts?
LS: An apartment. I hear the housing market’s pretty good here.
GUARD (Looks over his shoulder at menacing building.): An apartment? Here? What? Are you crazy?
MA: Well, if we were, we came to the right place, didn’t we?
GUARD: Who are you guys?
MA (Leans into guard, very serious): Cinema Knife Fighters. (On cue, there’s a blinding flash of lightning combined with an explosive crack of thunder.)
GUARD: Oh, those idiots…I mean, guys. Come to snoop around our hospital. You’ll find nothing out of the ordinary here.
LS: This is a hospital for the criminally insane. What would you consider “out of the ordinary.”
GUARD: I know, I know, you want me to say “A peaceful day,” like they do in the movie, but I ain’t gonna say it…Follow me, won’t you?
LS: Didn’t you used to be the cross-dressing brother on THE DREW CAREY SHOW?
GUARD: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. (Suddenly sings out) Cleveland Rocks!
(GUARD leads them to the office of SPOOKY OLD PSYCHIATRIST, who runs the joint)
SPOOKY PSYCHIATRIST: Nice of you boys to visit our homicidal maniacs. Er… I mean patients.
MA: This isn’t a visit, Doctor.
LS: Yeah, we’re here to review a movie.
PSYCHIATRIST: Well, don’t let me stop you!
MA: Don’t worry, you won’t. L.L., how about you start us off?
LS (To PSYCHICIATRIST): Has anyone ever told you you look a lot like Ghandi?
PSYCHIATRIST: I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.
LS: Okay…Our movie this time around is the new film by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, SHUTTER ISLAND. This one was based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also provided the source material for the Oscar-winning film, MYSTIC RIVER.
MA: Another Boston-based crime drama, although to be honest, the island and psychiatric fortress perched on it reminded me a bit of Alcatraz, and so for some reason the Boston location didn’t fit for me. I kept thinking they were off the coast of San Francisco.
LS: Well, the Shutter Island of the title is off the coast of Boston, and this story is a bit spookier than your average crime drama. There are ghosts, and sometimes horrific hallucinations.
(Camera goes to an EXTREME CLOSE-UP of MA’s face. He looks out the window at the storm, and a glazed look appears in his eyes, as if he’s falling into a daydream. We suddenly see MA and LS dressed in drag skipping through a field of flowers. MA SCREAMS!)
LS: Hey, partner, are you all right?
MA (Face dripping with perspiration): What a horrifying image! I’m sorry. I’m okay. I’ve just got this headache.
PSYCHIATRIST: You must be getting a migraine. Here, take these pills. (Hands MA pills).
MA: Gee, thanks, Doc. (Grimaces and looks at pills – they have skulls and crossbones imprinted on them).
LS (Notices pills): I used to take that brand when I was a kid. ( MA downs the pills)).
Anyway, SHUTTER ISLAND is the story of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), sent to the harsh, isolated Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the escape of one of its inmates, a woman who drowned her children years before. Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) immediately find themselves in a tense situation, as the hospital’s security force, led by Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch), makes it clear that they are unwanted there, and the marshals are ordered to surrender their firearms upon entering the facility. From here, things go from bad to worse, as the marshals are introduced to the man who runs the hospital, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who at first seems helpful, but who is anything but. Clearly nobody wants these strangers snooping around the facility, and no one is particularly willing to cooperate with their investigation.
Teddy is plagued by migraines during their stay, and a hurricane traps them on the island for several days. As the movie progresses we find out about several plotlines that run through this film, such as Teddy’s visions of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), who appears to him as a ghost and gives him bits of information which actually seem to help him in his investigation. He also has flashes back to his time in the army, when he was one of the American soldiers who liberated the Dachau concentration camp during World War II, an experience that left a severe scar on his psyche, seeing what humans were capable of doing to other humans. Teddy is also searching for another possible inmate, Andrew Laeddis, the man who set the apartment fire that killed his wife.
With the storm raging outside, and the staff and inmates being uncooperative and hostile inside, Teddy seems to be in the middle of some vast conspiracy, with possible ties to the U.S. government. As he gets closer and closer to the truth, we approach a twist ending that turns everything on its head.
(MA groans, stumbles into corner).
LS: Hey, bud, you okay?
(MA snarls and whips around, revealing he’s now a werewolf.)
LS: Holy crap!
MA (Now normal): What is it?
LS (Camera zooms in for an EXTREME CLOSE-UP of his face, as sweat is dripping from his forehead): Now, I’m seeing things. I don’t know. I think I’m getting a migraine too.
PSYCHIATRIST: Here, take these aspirin.
LS: What the hell are these? I want the ones with the skulls and crossbones on them! You can’t trick me!
(MA turns to camera and looks perplexed.)
MA: Yeah, the twist in SHUTTER ISLAND. It didn’t work for me at all. There’s not a whole lot I can say about it without giving it away, but, because of the numerous clues early on in the movie, I saw this twist coming long before I should have, which in effect, spoiled the movie for me. For example, when Dr. Crawley (Ben Kingsley) explains his philosophy of psychiatry to Teddy Daniels, right there, I saw the way the movie was going to play out. To me, it was just WAY too apparent, and it’s difficult to explain it here, since I don’t want to go into too much detail and be a spoiler.
LS: I had a very mixed reaction to SHUTTER ISLAND. I thought it started out great – very claustrophobic and with a hint of film noir to the atmosphere. It goes without saying that Scorsese is a master of his craft and after making films for so many years, he has a lot of this down pat. However, once the movie begins to head in the direction of its twist ending, everything fell apart for me. I’d say, around the time Leonardo has a strange conversation with Patricia Clarkson in a cave. From then on, the movie becomes very talky as various characters reveal their secrets, and everything is explained in great detail. Too much detail, if you ask me. This all culminates in a finale that I saw coming a mile away, but which also was very unsatisfying for me as a viewer.
MA: I agree, but it happened much earlier for me than that cave scene. I could argue that in the opening scene, when DiCaprio and Ruffalo are on the ferry to the island, right there, I saw hints which led me to believe this film would have the kind of twist it had. I know I should stop, but I can’t help myself. The clue has to do with water. Okay, I’ll shut up about it.
LS: Yeah, zip your lip. I saw the ending coming before the scene in the cave, too, but I kept hoping it wouldn’t go in that direction, that the story was still salvageable. By the discussion in the cave, I knew it was sunk.
MA: Anyway, I also enjoyed the plot early on. I like the reason the marshals come to the island, to investigate the disappearance of a female patient who disappeared from a locked room. I thought this was a compelling mystery, and I was really into it, and I think I would have enjoyed SHUTTER ISLAND more, had it been a straight crime-thriller rather than an exercise in the M. Night Shyamalan school of storytelling.
(Suddenly M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN pops up from behind a spooky corner)
M. NIGHT: What is this about another director stealing my idea for twist endings?
LS: But it’s the great Martin Scorsese! Besides, you haven’t made a good movie in years.
M NIGHT: That doesn’t matter, I AM THE TWIST GUY!
(CHUBBY CHECKER drops down from the ceiling and starts dancing)
CHUBBY (Singing): Come on Baby! Let’s do The Twist!
(LS and MA run to another room and close the door)
LS: Ahh, it’s nice and quiet here.
There were actually a few things about the movie I didn’t like. First off, I have a hard time taking Leonardo DiCaprIo seriously as some world weary, hard-edged G-Man. Maybe it’s his baby face beneath the stubble, along with his acting limitations, but I just didn’t find him completely believable in this role. Every time he tried to sound like some hard-edged cop, I just didn’t buy it. I know that Scorsese has really taken DiCaprio on as his favorite leading man these days (Leonardo also starred in Scorsese’s films GANGS OF NEW YORK (2002), THE AVIATOR (2004), and 2006’s THE DEPARTED), and Scorsese has gotten some good work out of him, but I still don’t find all of his performances to be equally compelling. And I think he is often miscast. Compare DiCaprio to the man who used to be Scorsese’s “go-to guy” earlier in his career, Robert De Niro, and there is a vast chasm between these two actors. De Niro, in his prime, could act circles around DiCaprio. Sadly, De Niro hasn’t had a really good role in a long time, either.
MA: I would disagree with you here. Not about DeNiro, who remains one of my all time favorite actors, but about DiCaprio. I bought him in this role, and I think he was completely captivating as Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels.
LS: Because of his work with Scorsese, I like DiCaprio a lot more than I would have otherwise. But I don’t think he’s a great actor. And I still think someone else could have done a better job with this role.
MA: It took me a while to warm up to DiCaprio. For example, I didn’t really enjoy him in TITANIC (1997) all that much, but in films like THE DEPARTED (2006) and BLOOD DIAMOND (2006) he was excellent. I would argue that DiCaprio is one of the best actors around, and in terms of talent, I would put him in the same class as Johnny Depp. In fact, I’ve enjoyed his recent performances more than Depp’s.
LS: I think Depp is a much better actor. But he’s got to stop making those lame PIRATE movies.
MA: But back to SHUTTER ISLAND, I thought DiCaprio was completely believable as the hard-edged federal marshal, and even more, I thought in the film’s climactic scene, a very disturbing scene that was difficult to watch, that he nailed the agonizing emotion his character was put through.
There were a lot of things I didn’t like about SHUTTER ISLAND too, but the acting, especially that of DiCaprio, wasn’t one of them.
LS: As for the rest of the acting, for the most part, it’s all very good.
MA: Yes, the acting was definitely my favorite part of the whole film.
LS: Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow as creepy doctors, turn in excellent performances.
MA: Isn’t Von Sydow great? I am so happy this guy is still making movies. He’s such a dominating presence, and he clearly steals the scenes he’s in. He’s wonderful to watch. He’s also probably the only actor still going today who can say he’s been making movies longer than Christopher Lee! Though I bet Lee’s made more.
I liked Kingsley too, though at times I thought he was doing an impersonation of Donald Pleasance from the HALLOWEEN movies.
LS: Ruffalo is pretty good, too, as DiCaprio’s partner – a new guy who Daniels doesn’t know well, but who he has to trust in this situation. Michelle Williams is very effective in her scenes as Daniels’s dead wife (even if her accent seems a bit off sometimes), and there are great cameos by Elias Koteas (who we saw most recently in THE FOURTH KIND), as the man who’s pyromania led to the death of Daniels’s wife, and especially Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from WATCHMEN, and the new Freddy Krueger in the upcoming remake of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) as another inmate who, in trying to help Daniels, has gotten himself locked away in a hellish ward where the most dangerous inmates are kept – inside a former Civil War fort.
MA: Yes, the cameos by Koteas and Haley were highlights, and Haley’s scene was the better of the two. Blink and you’ll miss Koteas. I liked Michelle Williams very much, and as the plot moves along, her character and her performance grow all the more haunting.
LS: I thought Michelle Williams’s role was risky. Often in movies when a character returns as a ghost to help the hero, it can come off as really lame. But Williams does a great job. Also very good is Ruby Jerins as a dead little girl who Teddy Daniels has visions of as well. She’s very spooky.
Another character I found compelling was Ted Levine as The Warden. The Warden is not on screen for very long, but there’s a scene toward the end where he gives DiCaprio’s character a ride in his jeep, and they have a very disturbing conversation. I thought that was a highlight, too. I wish he’d been in it more.
Hell, I really wanted to like this film. By half way through, I was definitely enjoying it and I thought it was a no-brainer that I was going to be giving this movie a good review. But by the last part, the movie just let me down in too many ways for me to recommend it.
Another major problem I have with Scorsese’s recent films is their length. All of the movies I mentioned that star DiCaprio run well over the two-hour mark. You could argue that when you’re someone as iconic as Scorsese, you should go on as long as you want, but you’d be wrong. This man needs an editor who is not afraid to sit him down and tell him that he needs to start cutting his films down a bit. The length adds to the fact that there are definite slow spots (I found the final half hour, when all of the secrets are revealed, to be pretty tedious and badly paced). Better editing could have kept the entire film moving along as steadily as it does in its first hour.
MA: As much as I like Scorsese’s work, I would have to agree with you here. The pacing of SHUTTER ISLAND suffers greatly towards the end.
LS: It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when Scorsese was great at pacing. Just look at classics like TAXI DRIVER (1976) and RAGING BULL (1980), two of my favorite Scorsese films. There’s not a minute wasted in those films.
There’s enough good stuff in SHUTTER ISLAND to recommend that you see it on DVD when it is released. But I don’t recommend paying the price of a movie ticket for this one.
MA: This is scary, but I had nearly the same exact experience. I really wanted to like this movie too, and I was liking it, but like you, towards the end, things soured.
Technically, this movie was like a juicy steak. It looked terrific, the scenes were crafted to the point of making your mouth water, and I don’t know, I could pretty much watch a Scorsese movie all day. I mean, there was atmosphere everywhere: storms, jagged cliffs, a lighthouse, mentally unstable patients and dark corridors. There’s nothing wrong with the look or feel of this film.
The acting was phenomenal, powerful to the point where some scenes silenced the crowded theater I was in. The flashbacks and the dream sequences were compelling, and they really worked for me.
There was certainly a lot to like, but the twist –which wasn’t much of a twist, since I saw it coming – cut the film down several notches. Also, the subject matter of a parent murdering her children is about as unpleasant as they come. This, combined with images of Nazi death camps doesn’t exactly make for a fun night out. By the time the end credits had rolled on SHUTTER ISLAND, I felt totally drained and depressed.
Now, I don’t mind that a movie tackles serious subject matter such as this, but in a murder/mystery /crime thriller, it’s too dark for my tastes.
LS: I didn’t think the darker aspects of the film were a detriment at all. In fact, they packed a punch. Too bad there weren’t more punches in this movie. By the end, it’s pretty limp.
MA: Ultimately, SHUTTER ISLAND is a fine example of movie-making expertise by a master movie-maker, and it’s well acted by veterans of the field, but its story is dark and depressing, without any reward, and its effectiveness is further muddled by a forced plot twist that–if you’re paying close attention to the clues in the movie– you’ll know about long before you’re supposed to.
So, in spite of the fact that it’s a well-made thriller, I can’t recommend SHUTTER ISLAND either.
PSYCHIATRIST: That’s too bad, gentlemen, because now you’ll have to stay here forever! (Laughs maniacally).
LS: Not a problem. (Snaps fingers. A valet enters with their bags).We like it here. I’ll take the room overlooking the spooky lighthouse.
MA: Damn! Oh well, I’ll take the one with the view of the brick wall.
PSYCHIATRIST: You two gentlemen are crazy!
MA: No, we’re Cinema Knife Fighters! (Lightning flashes, thunder booms, and the lights flicker).
LS: And don’t you forget it! (Turns to camera) Don’t you forget either. We wouldn’t want to do this alone. Thanks for tuning in.
MA: Yes, as always, many thanks to our readers! Until next time—.
(THE LIGHTS GO OUT WITH A CRACK OF THUNDER)
FADE TO BLACK.
© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares