Thursday, February 25, 2010

Shutter Island Review (Review #56)


The praise that is being heaped on Shutter Island is a puzzle to me. Is Scorsese brilliant? Absolutely. Can DiCaprio act? For the most part, yes. Is this a good film? No, or perhaps in tribute, I should say nein. The problem with Shutter Island is that once you get it, you don't want it.

U.S. Marshalls Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) have been sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of one Rachel Solando, a patient of this hospital for the criminally insane. At least that, as they say, is The Official Story. At this point, I SHOULD say there is more to this case than meets the eye. However, I can't. There is a simple reason for this: it has to do with the fact that I still have a functioning brain.

Without giving too much away, IF YOU CANNOT SOLVE THE MYSTERY WITHIN 30 MINUTES AT THE MOST, YOU ARE A MORON. Flat out, you are stupid if you don't almost instantly realize what's going on. I give you that window of 30 minutes because part of me didn't WANT to accept the reality of what I knew to be true: a bit like Daniels. I was willing to give Shutter Island the benefit of the doubt, thinking that perhaps I could be wrong. However, nothing I wished could make me come to deny reality: I had solved the whole story. Once that happened, I gave up all hope that this could be a rewarding experience.

Here's the thing about suspense/thriller films: if you've solved the case, especially like the one in Shutter Island, you sit there bored because you know already where the story is going. To have a successful suspense film, you need actual suspense. When you don't have an element of suspense, of danger, of fear, what you have is a sense of "Oh, I know why that happened", "Oh, that would be the next logical step", "Oh, saw that coming". If there is no suspense, no tension, you really have no story.

Allow me to digress and answer some objections I've had hurled in my direction about my dislike for Shutter Island. I've been lectured ad nausiem about how I was SUPPOSED to know the big twist, about how it was SUPPOSED to be painfully obvious. 'It's not about solving the mystery', I've been told. 'It's about the journey'.

Perhaps this is true, and I'm being far too harsh.  However, I'm not buying that line of thinking, not just yet.  If you realize the truth surrounding "the mystery", you already have established what the journey will be. No matter how you turn it, you already know not only the journey, but the destination. The audience WON'T have any interest in keeping up with the merry adventures of Marshall Daniels because they are (or should be) twenty to thirty paces ahead of him. Why stick with a character who isn't very interesting to begin with when you already know where he's going to end up?

On reflection, it HAS to be obvious. The music announces itself as screaming, "This Will Be A Scary/Suspenseful Film" (there is no score, just selections from other works). The visuals are so self-consciously dreamlike and visually poetic that it all puts a searchlight on the goings-on. The performances don't do much, and perhaps Scorsese directed them to also make everything obvious. I do wish DiCaprio would stop trying to speak as if he were auditioning for the lead in The Mayor Quimby Story. This is his second stab at an authentic Bostonian accent (The Departed being the first) and this is the second time he fails miserably at it. It might have been better if he hadn't tried an accent--I find his performances are better when he speaks in his own voice (Blood Diamond being the only DiCaprio performance where the accent, while not completely believable, was somewhat acceptable).

In fact, I found it quite amusing when DiCaprio's Daniels lectures the Germanic-sounding Dr. Naehring (the Swedish Max von Sydow) on the subject of accents. He and Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) don't bother to show they are humoring DiCaprio, but Ruffalo does. This may have to do with the story, granted, yet it makes it all look like only one of them is game to try to make the film suspenseful. I also wonder about Jackie Earle Haley as George Noyce, a patient who lets Daniels in on important information. He appears to be repeating his performance in Watchmen, which makes it less interesting.

Finally, on a personal level, I object very strongly to the gratuitous nature of plot points. Again, without giving too much away, I think the Holocaust is enough of a true-life horror to make merely a plot point in Daniels' inner life, and I thought the children did suffer far too much, not to mention it was something that A.) we already knew about, and B.) was grotesque to have to watch.

I wasn't impressed by DiCaprio or anyone else in the film.  It doesn't lend any interest to me in watching.

Despite what I've been told about how it was all meant to be obvious, I still am not convinced.  Perhaps it was a fault of the advertising, as my impression was that it was supposed to be a mystery versus some psychological thriller within the mind.  I can see where people would say I was always meant to be in the know, yet somehow, I still can't get there.

I suppose if you think Shutter Island is not about what the mystery is but how it all looks, it could work. However, if you've solved the mystery, why would you bother going on the journey when you already know where it's going? That would be crazy, as crazy as realizing that it's all in the mind.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Views are always welcome, but I would ask that no vulgarity be used. Any posts that contain foul language or are bigoted in any way will not be posted.
Thank you.