Wednesday 22 December 2010

Film Review | Shutter Island

"Someone is missing," intones the theatrical poster for Shutter Island, the latest - and surely one of the greatest - from Goodfellas director extraordinaire Martin Scorsese, latterly of The Departed. But who? Who's missing?

Well, I ain't telling.

Nor, for that matter, are they.

I mean sure, they'd love for you to swallow the story they've cooked up to explain what in God's name is going on on Shutter Island, which is to say the infamous mental institution where you and your partner Chuck have been shipped off to. But you're a US Marshal. In your gut, in your heart, you know there's something more disturbing in play than the inexplicable escape of a violent lunatic by the name of Rachel Solondo - apparently vanished into thin air from a locked room surrounded by staff who swear they saw nothing. And where could she have gone, anyway? There's only the one boat to-ing and fro-ing over the sea each day - called off since your arrival because of a century storm in any event - and beyond the grounds of the asylum there's nothing but perilous cliffs and dank mausoleums, turned over in search of Solondo ten times already.

The closer you and Chuck get to the truth, the further a leap the facts of the case you've been sent to investigate seem. Something more, you're sure of it, is going on on Shutter Island. Something darker and more baffling than the disappearance of a woman who still believes the three of her children she murdered are alive by far...

Truth be told, I don't read a great deal of crime fiction, nor too many mysteries, but I'm thinking I might just have to look this Dennis Lehane fellow up. I would, too, on the strength of Shutter Island alone, the 2003 novel of his Scorsese based this stellar adaptation on, but add to that Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, two more books I've only seen the movies of - excellent each in their way - and evidently we're looking at an author I can hardly stand to ignore any longer.

Shutter Island is many things. A sumptuously realised period piece; an evocative, chillingly atmospheric noirish conspiracy thriller; a complex ensemble of character actors at their peak performing brilliantly unnerving bit parts; an uneasy unravelling of questions of identity and responsibility. But it is, above all else, a trick. 

Shutter Island is in its entirety an elaborate ruse, in which the viewer is as complicit as any of the doctors and patients and police in and around the asylum. And as with all such films - The Sixth Sense comes first to mind - there's a chance you'll see through it. I did. At around the hour mark, I took a pot shot at the twist ending, and the cracking reveal, when it came, bore out my suspicions.

I think it speaks to just how marvellous this film is that, having seen the end on the cards long before Scorsese showed his hand, I still came away from Shutter Island slack-jawed in awe. Not to suggest that the conclusion is obvious, nor indeed in the least unsatisfying in terms of its conception or execution - as a matter of fact a minor-scale rebuttal of the twist's great orchestral crescendo would redeem Shutter Island in that regard (were it in any need of redemption, which it's not) - but it was the getting-there that got me anyway; the journey rather than the destination I so adored.

And who to hold on high for that?

I hardly need to stress what a remarkable filmmaker Martin Scorsese is on a good day. And Shutter Island tells of the very best of days. With it and The Departed, the man, the legend, seems to have handily recaptured the high points - the energy, the finesse - of his earlier work, and it's a genuine pleasure to see him so reinvigorated.

Scorsese, then, as good as goes without saying. Leonardo DiCaprio, on the other hand, has with this and Inception finally come into his own, and for all his charm and boyish good looks, he seems a revelation. I challenge you not to be taken in by his meticulously nuanced performance: conflicted, addled and invariably intense, DiCaprio alone carries the greater part of Shutter Island. Had he not been the task's equal, who knows how this stunning film would have fared?

It's all about him, after all...

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