Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shutter Island ***

Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island is the type of movie where red-herrings are seemingly piled on top of red-herrings and the actors seem to have an easier time shouting their lines than they do speaking them softly.  It is almost as if each character exists solely to get a rise out of the next and DiCaprio embodies this ethos with his explosive performance.  His moods change so quickly, it's almost like watching a master class in faking a panic attack and yet his performance anchors the movie firmly to the left of center.  It isn't until the end that all becomes clear and suddenly the rationale behind these theatrics takes on an entirely different meaning.  

As it is unfolding, much of the film is claptrap nonsense made legitimately engrossing by Scorsese's directorial energy.  Although the subject takes him far from home, there is a tangible sense of the fun he is having, bending different genres and juggling the atonal rythms of the story.  His effort is impossible to miss.  It isn't subtle, but his force as a storyteller is the real show here.  Critics were mixed when the picture was released earlier this year and it is easy to get sucked into appraising this as one of the director's minor works.  I believe it's one of his most interesting films.  In time, as he has wandered from his usual milieu of wiseguys and street hoods, Scorsese has emerged as a passionate narrator of American history.  Shutter Island can easily be viewed as his vision of post-war paranoia run amok.  But, it is also an exercise in storytelling form that allows him to push narrative boundaries, thanks to a superb climactic twist.  

The twist at the end of the film is also the key to the center of the film and we are treated to the rare surprise ending that amounts to more than the surprise itself.  Unlike other popular "puzzle narratives" such as The Sixth Sense or  Fight Club, Shutter Island rewards multiple viewings with more than a few sly winks and an "aha, I fooled you."  Watching Shutter Island for a second time is an entirely different experience than the initial viewing.  The tone is different, motivations are clearer, and it has a much deeper emotional resonance.  Only a director of Scorsese's caliber could pull off this high-wire act without sacrificing on either entertainment or substance.  Even once you know what's coming it is impossible to look away.