Monday, February 22, 2010

Movie Review: Shutter Island

In order to add more content to the blog I have recently decided that I will start writing movie reviews. I mean, I watch enough movies so I might as well start writing about them. I can't say that I know everything there is about movies but I'm definitely learning. I don't just watch movies, I study them. I study the shot compositions, effective use of visual effects, lighting, and I even listen for how the soundtrack will enhance a scene, among other technicalities. So, as practice for my writing and critiquing skills, I present you my first movie review of the film Shutter Island.

I don't normally watch movies on their opening weekend but I decided to make an exception for Shutter Island. There hasn't been much worth seeing in the theatres as of late, unless you count the yearly congregation of Valentine's Day Rom-Coms. No disrespect to Rom-Com lovers; I can tolerate a cliched love story every now and again. It just seems that Shutter Island came just at the right time when cinema was lacking in terror and gore.

Shutter Island is the latest offer from the legendary director Martin Scorsese who is best known for his gangster films Goodfellas and Casino or the period epics The Aviator and Gangs of New York. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio in what is the fourth film that the pair have done together. DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, A U.S. Marshall who is dispatched to investigate the disappearance of an psychotic at a mental hospital for the criminally insane located on a hostile island in Massachusetts. Daniels immediately notices that the hospital resembles a maximum security prison similar to Alcatraz and grows suspicious with the administration and patients of the hospital. Daniels served in the Second World War where memories of storming Nazi concentration camps still haunt him. There he witnessed terrible experiments done against humans, and now he gets the impression that the same experiments are being done on Shutter Island. Not willing to give up on his suspicions and fueled by the knowledge that his wife's killer is in the complex, Daniels finds himself trusting no one in a life or death race for the truth.

I found Shutter Island to be a fantastic thriller/suspense drama and the best release so far of a rather lackluster 2010. I am quite familiar with Scorsese's previous works and this film is a departure from what we can expect from him. Scorsese has a knack for getting the audience to sympathize and feel for his main characters on an emotional level, evident in his previous films Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. This film, however, places the audience into the psyche of the main character.

Using old psychological themes that have been used in many films, Scorsese manages to present these themes in a highly stylized method that pulls the viewer into the psychological state of the main character better then any other psycho thriller I have seen as of late. We feel Teddy Daniels' sense of paranoia and the mental torment that the hospital and it's inhabitants place on him. Put simply, Shutter Island is a character study of the abnormalities in the perception and expression of reality; what is real, and what is not for one individual may not be for another.

One of my favorite parts of the film were the dream sequences as they were done so well that they truly capture the frantic changes in reality often associated with dreaming. The techniques used in creating the dream scenes were on point, as Scorsese masterfully used down lighting, quick cuts and a variety of camera angles. At times the audience would catch a few quick frames of something out of ordinary on screen, causing them to look to their neighbours in assurance that they didn't just imagine it. The soundtrack was brilliant as usual for a Scorsese film. Normally suited to using horns or classical music, Scorsese opted for strings. String instruments have been used to evoke fear as far back as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho or Spielberg's Jaws and Scorsese further proved from the start of his film that strings equal enough suspense to make certain 25 year old men cover their eyes in terror.

The downside to the film is that it was a little obvious closer to the end. One can only endure so many bait and switches before they start to catch on to the pattern, making them harder to fool. However, the conclusion made up for this by leaving the audience guessing and interpreting how the story should end themselves. DiCaprio was great as usual; I'm quite the fan and that's all I really have to say about that. The movie rated fairly mediocre, receiving mainly positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. For some, this was too much of a departure from what we expect from Scorsese. I for one believe that the film presented a challenge for the master director and he took it on and presented a great product that stands alone in the genre.



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