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Mon February 8, 2010
Not as good as his greats.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time," "Cinema Classics," and "On the Marquee"
Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island reminds me of Hitchcock's successful Vertigo, Psycho, and most of all, Spellbound, without the success. The mentally unstable characters who provided Hitchcock hints of utter depravity in those classics in Shutter Island mainly serve facile plot twists.
Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a federal marshal who, with his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) goes to Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane in 1954 to investigate the escape of a notorious murderess of her own three children. Almost everyone at that Boston harbor institution besides the patients seems a bit off center, even Teddy, who brings some psychological baggage to the job.
While the cinematography is appropriately claustrophobic and the 19th century industrial brick insane asylum and its accompanying Civil War fort reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs with a touch of Alcatraz, the plot twists are indiscriminately telegraphed while Teddy's ranting and recurring visions of his deceased wife are too many and annoying.
As the resident shrink, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) is much smoother than Lambs' Dr. Chilton (Anthony Heald) but not half as fun. Nor is there a villain who can come close to Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter. Although Teddy is the center of the film, Scorsese spends too many frames on tortured close-ups, as if he were making sure that DiCaprio is nominated for an Oscar next year.
The film should have expanded the role of Dr. Naehring, head of the hospital, because the estimable Max von Sydow could have saved the film from boredom as the twists are telegraphed obviously and way too bluntly. In its favor, Scorsese plays deftly, if not a bit too obviously, with different camera angles such as bird's eye and visual images such as bright red blood, reminiscent of the stunning work in Sam Mendes' American Beauty.
When you've directed Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull, you have a tough time topping yourself.
Shutter Island is not a film to be ashamed of; it's just not as good as his greats.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, Cinema Classics, and On the Marquee, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml and on demand at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain