Scorsese Explores New Grounds With His Latest Thriller, Shutter Island

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Martin Scorsese was just issued the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globe Awards just a few weeks ago and was introduced by two of his classic go-to’s: Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Deniro. While both introductions were heartfelt, with lots of years of effort and devotion emanating behind each, there was something a little different about Leo’s.

In his speech you can hear in his voice and see in his eyes the massive creative crush Leo has on Martin. You can see that same vigor and admiration in Leo’s performance in “Shutter Island.” You can see how much love Leo has for Martin in this film, however, that is not what I want to be seeing when Leo is supposed to be a character in a movie. While his Golden Globe introduction was very moving and came from some place real for him, some of that was lost in “Shutter Island.”

Like most Leo films, I begin the first 20 minutes or so being very annoyed by him and then by the end I usually forget about being annoyed, which is saying something I suppose.  It’s not like I have anything against Leo, yet in his films I always have the feeling like he becomes disconnected from the other actors on screen because he seems to be so caught up in his own performance and that is especially apparent in “Shutter Island.”

Michelle Williams, who plays his wife in the film, gives a wonderfully off-kilter performance which only made me desperate to feel the chemistry between herself and Leo but it was never quite there because of Leo’s disconnection. Then again, Leo’s character is supposed to be disconnected in “Shutter Island” so in some ways I reckon it works.

Despite the Leo criticism, “Shutter Island” is a darn good film.  It’s complete new territory for Scorsese, and within the intricacies and film tricks he uses in the movie, it’s quite obvious how much fun he let himself have while making the film. The previews for “Shutter Island” aren’t pushing the Scorsese affiliation, too much; but rather, the previews make this movie look like “The Ring 5.”

The first thing people have asked me about the movie is, “Is it super scary?” No, unless you are sheepish. Or you just like to hang out with sheep. Wait, why are you hanging out with sheep? Anyway, this is not a horror film. It’s more of a mind-bending mystery thriller. Scorsese creates a gorgeous cinematic world of this island that makes the cinematography seem to be like just another character in the film. It’s not “Avatar” beautiful, that would be distracting, but rather it’s very similar to the way Steven Soderbergh creates colors in his films.

When you’re watching a Steven Soderbergh film, you know, because of the distinct way he uses color. It’s the same way in “Shutter Island”; the cinematography allows you to get lost within the world of the film. Scorsese also does a wonderful job with being risky, by pushing the balance between realism and fantasy. Because this film is a bit of both, it was vital for him to find that balance.

Another noteworthy aspect of “Shutter Island” is the score, which was composed by Robbie Robertson, the guitarist and head songwriter of the 1970s group The Band. Scorsese and Robertson first collaborated in the 1970s in Scorsese’s concert-doc “The Last Waltz.”

One of my favorite Scorsese films and one of my favorite concert films of all time, “The Last Waltz” was part a portrait of Robbie Robertson’s The Band and part their concert held on November 25th, 1976 at the Winterland Ballroom here in beautiful San Francisco. The concert featured classic guests like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and many more. Great film, check it out.

Anyway, Robertson makes a score reminiscent of Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s score for “There Will Be Blood,” where heavy, bassy strings breathe danger. At times, Robertson’s score is too intrusive and takes itself too seriously; however the editing team makes good use of dead silence directly following musical climaxes. While this lends to the atmosphere of this island world, sometimes it’s a bit distracting.

The most memorable moments of the film are when Scorsese is having fun. He makes beautiful dream sequences and alters focuses so slightly that it’s almost subliminal and could go unnoticed to a lazy pair of eyes.

Unfortunately, I wish Scorsese could’ve condensed these fun tricks and sequences a little more. The film might’ve been more effective if the 138 minutes of film were more like 105 minutes. The film drags out a bit between beautiful sequences keeping you hooked. To the credit of the master that is Scorsese, I couldn’t easily predict the movie’s outcome and I was even second guessing until near the very end when it all came together, unlike most films along the vein.

It’s almost a little disappointing how easily it all comes together at the end, but Scorsese still keeps a few things open ended and fun to ponder and question. It was one of those movies that right afterwards you think, ‘I gotta see that again to notice the little secrets.

Not one of Scorsese’s best, but definitely worth a movie theater viewing.

GRADE: B

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