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WGUC Reviews

Shutter Island

Shutter Island
Paramount Pictures
Rated R
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas


The new Martin Scorsese film Shutter Island opens with two U.S. Marshals, circa 1955, being summoned to a remote island off the Massachusetts coast. They are required at a hospital/prison for the criminally insane, as one of the most dangerous patients has mysteriously disappeared without a trace. That’s very similar to the opening set-up of the classic British horror film The Wicker Man, but Shutter Island is not The Wicker Man, nor is it one of Scorsese’s better films.

Leonardo di Caprio and Mark Ruffalo play the lawmen charged with unraveling the mystery. On the island, they encounter roadblocks from those who have summoned them, played by Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow. And Michelle Williams shows up from time to time in flashbacks as di Caprio’s wife, who met with an untimely death that still haunts him.

Shutter Island has all the trappings of a haunted house film from the 1950s. It’s dark, foreboding, and mysterious. It’s also clichéd, ponderous, noisy, and way overlong. Anyone who is an imaginative film buff can predict the ending after the first twenty minutes or so, even though the film stretches out to two hours, eighteen minutes. There are so many twists and turns designed to lead you away from the obvious conclusion that they make the ending all the more clear. The music score by Robbie Robertson, of The Band fame, is bombastic and loud to the point of being annoying. While the point seems to be to evoke the sprit of the great Bernard Herrmann, it generally just makes you want to be able to turn the volume down.

The supporting performances are fine. Ruffalo, Kingsley and Von Sydow all do well by what they’re given to work with. Di Caprio seems out of his element and, at times, over the top. His performance is almost in the same vein as Revolutionary Road, released last year, also set in the 1950s, and also exceedingly heavy. Maybe Leo needs to start having some fun on screen for a change. I still think his best performance is in Sam Raimi’s western The Quick and the Dead, in which he had a supporting role. Michelle Williams seems totally wrong for the role of di Caprio’s wife, and only seems to be giving half-effort.

And there are plenty of the thriller conventions on view here: the murky asylum with wailing patients; a crashing thunderstorm, soon to be a hurricane, that isolates the island completely from the mainland; characters who come and go to explain parts of the plot; and, of course, the usual bumps in the night.

Several writers have likened Shutter Island to Scorsese’s attempt to capture the essence of Hitchcock. To me, it seems more like trying to capture the essence of William Castle, although Castle’s films, like The House on Hounted Hill and The Tingler, were at least, for the most part, fun… and short. At the conclusion of Shutter Island, you may find yourself screaming “let me out of here.” Just like the island’s residents.

The R-rated Shutter Island has audiences confined at a facility near you.


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