Thursday, June 10, 2010


Sanity is not a choice

By Edward Copeland
Sometimes I wonder: Is there a director as acclaimed and revered as Martin Scorsese who gets bashed more each time he releases a new film? That's not to say his films are above criticism or that some aren't good, but it seems as if Scorsese is in a no-win situation. If he makes a film that's too different from his greatest works, he's slammed for straying too far from what he does well. If he treads on territory that's too familiar, he receives 100 lashes for coasting on past successes and not living up to them. Not every film Marty has made is a masterpiece, but then neither were every Altman, every Hitchcock, every Wilder, every Kurosawa or the works of dozens of other great directors you could name. It doesn't diminish those artists' greatness and it doesn't diminish Scorsese's either. Never have I heard anyone credit Scorsese for what he really is: A master filmmaker who also is extremely eclectic, as evidenced by his most recent effort, Shutter Island.

When Scorsese made his big breakthrough with 1973's Mean Streets and was forever labeled as a filmmaker whose films tended to emphasize violence and criminals, most often within the boroughs of New York, he couldn't have gone more far afield with his followup the next year, directing the story of a newly widowed mom in the American southwest in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore.

Shutter Island marks yet another departure for Scorsese, this time with a full-blown, old-fashioned example of the thriller genre. Even the look of the film, with cinematography by the always great d.p. Robert Richardson and in-camera effects Scorsese employs working in tandem, creates the feel of something that wouldn't seem out of place if it had been released in the 1950s (except of course for the profanity).

Leonardo DiCaprio teams with Scorsese for the fourth time, this time playing U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels who is summoned with another marshal (Mark Ruffalo) to a strange insane asylum housed on the title island off the coast of Boston, Mass. One of the institution's patients has mysteriously vanished and the staff, led by one Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) are stumped as to how it could have happened and where the woman could have gone.

Once on the grounds, Daniels finds himself getting the runaround from most of the officials and begins to suspect that some sinister things might be going on on Shutter Island that could supersede the task of finding an escaped patient.

The film, based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, builds twist upon twist, but not in the way you'd usually expect in a film of this type, because the way Scorsese directs the film, aided immeasurably by his faithful editor Thelma Schoonmaker, one can never quite be sure where the truth lies, what's real or what's imagined. He creates a suitably spooky atmosphere and holds on to it, allowing it to build and tighten until its revelatory crescendo.

The film is full of great performances from the main stars on down to many in small but crucial parts such as Max von Sydow, Ted Levine, Robin Bartlett, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson and Michelle Williams.

The one regret I have about Shutter Island is that it is the first film Scorsese has directed, with the exception of Shine a Light, that I wasn't able to see in a theater dating all the way back to The King of Comedy. I even saw A Personal Journal with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies on the big screen. It makes me sad knowing that The Departed likely will be the last Scorsese I see in a theater, but unlike many, I liked that film a lot and find it one of his most re-watchable, so I could have ended on a worse one.

Shutter Island will not go on the list of Scorsese's greatest works, but it's far from belonging on the ledger of his weakest either. It makes for a juicy and diverting couple of creepy hours. As Dr. Frank-N-Furter sang in "Planet Schmanet Janet" in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, "A mental mind fuck can be nice."

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Is "Shutter Island" a remake of the "The 9th Configuration"?

Very interesting review.

No. Shutter Island is based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. The Ninth Configuration is based on the novel by William Peter Blatty.
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