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Scorsese-Lite

A Hollywood Maestro tries his hand at a psychological thriller, but his fourth partnership with DiCaprio might be the worst of them all.


Looking back on a considerable disappointment: SHUTTER ISLAND

Martin Scorsese’s SHUTTER ISLAND (USA) stages a post-war world of paranoia and guilt on an island-fortress for the criminally insane. When an inmate bafflingly escapes her cell, US Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) sail in to investigate. Their discoveries threaten to uncover nothing less than an American Death Camp, one supported by a sinister conspiracy involving the Red Scare, communists, and pro-frontal lobotomies.

Even in the outline, one can see what might have attracted the director to the material. As a committed essayist of the barely submerged bloodiness of America (MEAN STREETS, GANGS OF NEW YORK), Scorsese has staked his career on an acknowledgement of violence as inherent to culture (TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL). But the architecture of the source novel by Dennis Lehane – which connects historical guilt to personal guilt, and Dachau to Shutter Island – has suffered immeasurably in an adaptation by the improbable Laeta Kalogridis (PATHFINDER, ALEXANDER) and from poor turns by its lead performers. Thankfully, Ruffalo, who seems most out of place, is dispatched with when his character is thrown off a cliff.

One can count other such small mercies. On hand to relieve the tortured tedium of DiCaprio’s rapidly-aging routine is a small army of talented actors, including Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, and, most fetchingly, Emily Mortimer as a winsome murderess who may or may not have drowned her children. Then there is the island itself, a handsomely mounted location thrashed by tides and lit by lightning, buffeted by storms and infested with madmen, allowing Scorsese to try his hand at the old horror clichés. The film goes so far as to include a graveyard and a forlorn lighthouse, but to inconclusive results, since SHUTTER ISLAND is too shy to be an unabashed genre film like the many it rips off. The denouement, which crosses Freudian exposition with a Shyamalan-style it-was-all-a-dream ending, is a snooze-fest par excellence.

Worse, Scorsese isn’t bold enough to challenge the genre, and one cannot help but think of his contemporaries, other auteurs who have recently descended on the landscape of horror and re-made it in their eyes, especially von Trier with ANTICHRIST and Haneke with THE WHITE RIBBON. This makes for a considerable disappointment – SHUTTER ISLAND isn’t a great psychological thriller, it isn’t a very good horror movie, and I’m afraid it isn’t even a passable Scorsese picture.



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