Monday, March 1, 2010

Shutter Island review

What is reality? Am I crazy? Did I just soil myself? Are Leo Dicaprio's eyes really that blue?

These were just some of the questions going through my head after Shutter Island ended. You know how you felt after watching The Matrix for the first time? For a little while you really didn't know if you were living in the dream world or the real world? I got a good dose of that disorientation--not quite as pungent or long-lasting as from the Matrix, but still plenty powerful--from the new Scorsese flick. The acuteness of this disorientation is the most successful part of this movie, and it's ultimately what saves it and keeps it buoyant despite its flaws.

Yes, as surely as Shaun White is a lovable ginger, this movie has its flaws. This makes it vulnerable, and some took this opportunity and unfairly demolished it. (Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, gAy.O. Scott.) The weirdest of the weird in this one, are the super intense flashbacks to German concentration camps, which have all the gruesomeness of Sophie's Choice, but none of the relevance. These occur in Teddy Daniels' (Dicaprio) daydreams (as a solider in WWII, Daniels was one of the first Allied soldiers to find Dachau) and have no coherent link to the overall narrative, except to accentuate Daniels' troubled past. But this story line is overkill: Daniels already has a recently deceased wife (Michelle Williams) to reckon with--this by itself is plenty to justify his moodiness. It's like saying Lebron James and Dwayne Wade will win the Knicks a championship next year, when we know Lebron James will bring New York a trophy plenty easy by himself. Also, it's not like the movie needs any more help in the spookiness department from the piles of dead Jews.

Most unfortunately, the Nazi thing broadens the movie's scope in an irritating way, and comes off as kind of pathetic attempt by an egotistic director to make his movie more important than it needed to be. This has the indirect result of making all the other attempts at transcending the narrative seem contrived; for example, the warden's monologue near the end about violence is wonderfully dark and poetic, but it's sort of annoying in the context of the Nazi hubris.

There are some other minor moments which are pretty bizarre--the kind where everyone shakes their head and says, "what the balls was he thinking?" What, not everyone says that? Like, in one of Daniels' daydreams, a kid who is clearly dead wakes up and starts repeating, "I'm dead." The audience started laughing at that one.

Other things I didn't like about it:
1) Michelle Williams. (Her acting was much better in Dawson's Creek.)
2) The score. (Some parts were so over-the-top, it made me think of Jason Segel's character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall making fun of how he composed "ominous tones.")
3) Leo using the same exact accent he did in The Departed.
4) The giggling idiots sitting next to me who were a little too pleased with their late 20s/early 30s selves for bringing booze into the theater. I haven't seen anyone that proud of themselves for sneaking alcohol into the movies since me, when I was in 9th grade.

Where Scorsese earns his bread though, is with the skillfully woven plot. The ending, while not as slap-in-the-face surprising as, say, the twist in The Sixth Sense, is deliciously good, and leaves you kicking yourself for not figuring it out sooner. So, if you want to be pretty scared, see Leonardo Dicaprio act really well, laugh at some moments that aren't meant to be funny, and get whacked in the face with a cool ending, then go see Shutter Island.

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