Short version: See it. It’s amazing.
I’ve never been much of a Sorcese fan. As a film kid, you sort of have to acknowledge him as one of the greats – along with a few others, like Hitchcock and Walt Disney – even if you don’t necessarily love their work to pieces. It’s like an unspoken rule. Still, none of Scorcese’s films have ever really touched my life personally; his films don’t usually attract me much to begin with, but I respect them from a detached distance. Shutter Island, however, changed all that. I was curious and interested from the first time I saw the trailer (on my home TV via my latest Netflix rental), to the point that I kept track of it and decided that I wanted to see it in the theatre….if someone would tell me the ending ahead of time.
See, I’m slightly skittish with psychological thrillers. I’m not much of a horror-movie-goer in general, but when you get into the “mindfuck” stuff, I admit that I scare easily. Since I knew greenapplebeware had already seen the movie, I asked her to tell me the secret, the mystery, the ending, ahead of time. I’m not sure what my experience of the movie would have been otherwise, but knowing that made watching the film actually quite enjoyable for me (something that rarely ocurrs with me and horror films) and absolutely fascinating. The movie, lest you have any doubts, is amazing.
From the opening credits to the closing ones, the film has you – hook, line and sinker. The cinematography alone is excellent. I was ecstatic that the film landed the cover story of American Cinematographer, and I soaked up every word of the article. The direct, while uniquely poetic imagery of World War II Concentration Camps are both horrific and beautiful – a combination I didn’t think would be possible to achieve. It uses classic thriller techniques (i.e. arms reaching and grabbing, monster-like, out through the prison bars at our hero; the criss-crossing shadows and spiral staircases, etc.) but they are utilized well and minimally, so that it isn’t overdone and they don’t come across as cheesy, but frightening and real.
There’s been some talk of how the story is “unoriginal” and “done to death” but while that might be true of the overall concept, the telling of this particular film is delivered in an original way, with its own context, well-developed characters and an engaging set of circumstances. The story deals with issues of violence and human nature in a frontal way, while exploring the concepts of sanity, the loss thereof, and mental illness in a very sophisticated way. Even knowing the ending in advance, I found that the answer didn’t seem to stare you in the face from the start. There are signs to indicate something’s not right, something’s being “worked,” but it wasn’t as though the production was keen on hiding red flags, hoping you’d figure it out, unlike The Sixth Sense, which practically beat you over the head with symbols and indications all the way through. Effectively, yes, but Shutter Island didn’t seem to do that. At least, not nearly as much. The ending, when all is more or less revealed, it’s done without musical score, cinematic tricks or otherwise. There is a flashback sequence, yes, but even that is done in a straightforward manner, without bouncing back and forth to the present or anything else. The dialogue and action are delivered straight-out and stand on their own, and, if you don’t know the truth ahead of time, or even if you’ve guessed by that point, you’re likely to be unsure who to believe all the way to the end. It’s that good.
On top of all this, I was impressed, truly impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio – and for the very first time. I caught Titanic on TV the other night and it’s remarkable how tremendously he has changed since those days. Of course, at the same time, I continue to fall further and further in love with Mark Ruffalo with every film I see him in. The two of them worked very well together in this film; equally, rather than one or the other stealing the show, which is an achievment in and of itself, I think.
So see it. It’s amazing.