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Scorsese's Shutter Island as beautiful as it is creepy
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Scorsese's Shutter Island as beautiful as it is creepy

by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Shutter Island
Opening February 19


Shutter Island, the new flick from top American filmmaker Martin Scorsese, is a creepy ride into an insane landscape  literally. Scorsese + horror? Mm-mmm good.

Shutter Island is an institution for the criminally insane off the coast of Massachusetts. U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) go there to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a patient named Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer). The ferry leaves, a storm blows in, and things pretty much go to hell. Trapped on the island, Teddy and his partner must figure out Dr. Cawley's (Ben Kingsley) game if they ever hope to leave.

Shutter Island is really two movies in one (if you havent read the book). The first time you see it, it plays out one way. The second time you see it, and know the trick; it's a whole new ballgame.

Shutter Island is definitely a Scorsese flick. The photography by veteran Robert Richardson is breathtaking. The camera angles are surprising without being pretentious. The POV as the Nazi guards are dismissed is chilling. The sweeping aerial shots of the landscape are dizzying. The dream sequences are lovely and listless and, as usual in a Scorsese flick, always on the verge of slipping over the top (but they never do).

The ubiquitous use of CGI serves to put the camera places its never gone before instead of just creating monsters and aliens. It's also employed to draw a subtle line of demarcation between realities. The CGI does not produce fantastic images; instead it enriches the narrative by enriching the narrative's world.

The first-rate cast is excellent. DiCaprio has grown into a seamless leading man who makes it look easy (though I wish his head weren't so large). Kingsley gives a softly nuanced performance that will make the second screening of Shutter Island even more fun than the first. Michelle Williams once again steals scenes from A-list male megastars, and I loved seeing Max von Sydow as a shady doctor with an odd sense of humor.

The story, adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane and written for the screen by Laeta Kalogridis, isn't exactly what we've come to expect a horror film to be. That's unfortunate because this is what a horror film should be. Horror is not about the hack 'n' slash - though there is gore in Shutter Island - it's about the possibility of something horrific that truly terrifies. Scorsese channels a little Hitchcock for this one, and rightly so.

Yes, there's a trick ending. No, you won't figure it all out. The last 20 minutes yank you to and fro and you won't get it all until the bitter end. Once more, rightly so.

There are a couple of niggling reservations that keep Shutter Island from being among Scoreseses best. The preachy dialogue about the history of mental illness slows the pace and the intersection between insane asylums and concentration camps feels a bit tortured.

I was also concerned when they pushed the release date to February, but after seeing it, I really like this film. It's creepily good fun and has a few nice surprises, too. It's not Scorsese's best, but it's still Scorsese. On his worst day, he's formidable.

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