Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Movie Review: Shutter Island - Scorsese's homage to Alfred Hitchcock

Got to watch a movie that isn’t made for children in the year 2010; yes, I’m referring to Iron Man 2, Shrek 4 and Prince of Persia (How To Train A Dragon was thoroughly enjoyable). Utter nonsense made with only $$$ in mind. I can see the gaming fan boys coming for my throat, so I'll say Prince of Persia (though I did find my friend's criticism about Jake Gyllenhaal being the whitest actor in Hollywood and yet still playing the role of a Brit-Persian quite hilarious) wasn't that bad. Anyways, you can imagine how excited I was to finally watch a movie with substance, a movie definitely worth talking/blogging about! - SG

Based on the psychological thriller novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island (2010) is directed by Martin Scorsese with the customary lead role played by Leonardo DiCaprio and stand out supporting roles from Mark Ruffalo and the Sexy Beast (2000), Ben Kingsley. Thankfully, Kingsley redeemed himself with flying colours in this movie, after the atrocity that was his performance in Prince of Persia. He hasn’t sold out just yet.

Viewing Shutter Island, I think it’s blatantly obvious to see the movie is conveying comprehensive reverence to the legendary director, Alfred Hitchcock. The post-WWII based timeline, the setting of an asylum for the criminally insane, the theme of schizophrenia and it’s origins, combed with the mystery of a missing femme fatale patient - it’s all very 1950s noir.  Even the manner in which the actors deliver their lines is classical – it’s almost like we’re watching a play on stage. There are several nods to the great English director; acute, uncomfortable focus on details both in characters and setting (Shutter Island can be just as claustrophobic as Rear Window (1954)), the awkward choppy editing and use of dream sequences depicting psychosis, and more than anything else, the extremely sinister use of a very creepy background score. If the cliff scene and lighthouse scene at the end of Shutter Island don’t take you back to Hitchcock’s classic Vertigo (1958), I don’t know what will. Given Martin Scorsese’s reputation for being the leading voice in film history, there is no doubt this is reminiscent of old school film noir psychological thrillers, based around the style of Mr. Hitchcock. It is a perfect homage to a bygone era in cinema, in which psychological thrillers were touching on a subject that was still relatively unknown and was yet portrayed exceptionally creatively and to be fair, accurately.

In Pic: Shutter Island's inspiration - Alfred Hitchcock

Without sounding like a pretentious twat – I think this movie will be more appreciated by purists who are well versed with film history than those who enjoy a good mystery with jaw dropping plot twists. From the get go, this movie is painfully predictable, what you think is essentially what’s going to happen, barring a few inconsequential surprises. My brother who watched it before me, warned, “The ending will be the cause of quite a few debates…” I asked him “Was it good?” He was quick to answer, “Yes, as obvious as it was.” When I read The Wall Street Journal's critic John Anderson’s suggestion for the viewing of this film, I felt a little vindicated about my belief in the film’s quality; "Shutter Island requires multiple viewings to be fully realized as a work of art. Its process is more important than its story, its structure more important than the almost perfunctory plot twists it perpetrates. It’s a thriller, a crime story and a tortured psychological parable about collective guilt." Essentially, if you watch it appreciating the techniques in which the story is told – Shutter Island's story becomes secondary. The real highlight of this movie is the vivid imagery relating not only to the main character's life and struggles but also the demons he's fighting. The rats from the cliff and the haunting imagery of the holocaust and infanticide are going to stay with you for a while. The answers may be obvious but they're by no means spelt out for you.  

I have harped on about how this movie pays homage to 1950s psychological thrillers – what made those movies special, during those times topics like schizophrenia and psychosis were still obscure and unfamiliar… which made the movies quite scary. People are truly afraid of what they don't understand. Take Psycho (1960) for example, as legendary as the shower scene was, the movie was really frightening because Norman Bates was the first character to depict schizophrenics and the violent obsessive behavior many of them are prone towards. In 2010, we’re all fairly well versed about psychosis and the criminally insane (thanks to classics like Psycho and The Collector (1965), as well as your abundance of contemporary movies centered around serial killers such as Silence of the Lambs (1992) and Seven (1995)) – which makes Shutter Island’s plot a tad foreseeable. Having said of all of this, I do think the plot was beautifully tragic – Teddy Daniels’ final philosophical words to Mark Ruffalo’s character did well to bring the whole story together.

All the personal jealousy aside, it’s high time Leo wins himself an Oscar, especially for his performance playing the role of the grief stricken WWII veteran, Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island. He takes intensity to another level in the role – brooding, resentful and doomed. We may have lost him during the Titanic times (I was in high school, so it’s forgivable) – but we just cannot deny he is currently Hollywood’s finest actor. Just can’t remember a time I haven’t enjoyed one of his movies. In Blood Diamond (2006) he redefined the adventure hero by making himself an adventure anti-hero. He was outstanding in The Departed (2006), giving Donny Brasco (1997) a run for his money as the most cursed undercover police officer. He gave a really underrated performance in Revolutionary Road (2008) with Kate Winslet and it completely undid any preconceived notions I had about him thanks to Titanic (1997) and The Beach (2000). To be Martin Scorsese’s go to lead and to be releasing a movie with Christopher Nolan (Inception (2010)) in the same year is something very special. Can we start categorizing him with the likes of Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks? I don’t think it would be far off to say in time he’ll be bigger than Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and even Jack Nicholson.

    In Pic: Leonardo DiCaprio as Edward 'Teddy' Daniels

We’ve seen Scorcese do his fair share of mafia movies: Goodfellas (1990)Casino (1995) and The Departed. He’s made epic biopics: Raging Bull (1980) and The Aviator (2004). We’ve also seen his versatility in his powerful documentaries inspired by the world’s greatest musicians: Shine a Light (2008) and No Direction Home (2005). In Shutter Island, we have the best of everything that is Scorcese with a little twist, he isn’t telling us how great he is, he’s telling us how great Alfred Hitchcock was. There are also a few instances where I see inspirations from the psychological classic Persona (1966) in this movie. Intelligent yet quirky editing techniques, a keen eye for lush rich cinematography matched with a sharp understanding of imagery and colour contrasts, a reliance on actors who are passionate to the point of being obsessively ‘mode’ and of course, monumental settings spurred from larger than life production. Add a plot line that deals with very dark yet classic themes ranging from the holocaust, infanticide, dementia, treatment of the insane, and you have a true culmination of Hitchcock-Scorcese cinema. In so little words, the tension is so high with all these components coming together; as you float through the misty opening scene only to be dragged right down through the black ominous gates of Ashecliffe Hospital, you can’t help but think Shutter Island is going to be one hell of a mind fuck. And oh boy is it a mind fuck.

In Pic: Martin Scorsese - cinema's living legend

I'm easily swayed thanks to the garbage that's been released in cinemas recently, so to finally watch a movie with real depth and which keeps you thinking is refreshing. Scorsese proves (yet again) why he's an absolute legend. What do you think, is he the greatest filmmaker in American history?  I'm beginning to think so. 8/10.  Bring on Ridley Scott's Robin Hood and Christopher Nolan's Inception!


  1. Great review man. I didn't read the book, or anybody's reviews or spoilers before watching the movie, so i didn't think it was as predictable as you say. But then again, i haven't watched all the movies you've referred to in your review. Everytime i questioned Ted Daniels' sanity, the plot got deeper and drew me in some more. Loved how it all unfolded at the end. The predictability of the story aside, i thought all the different dark themes that made up the plot were stellar. Kept me interested throughout.

    Spot on assessment when you say the art behind the film is bigger than the story. Fantastic use of visuals, colours, rough edits, and a great background score throughout. Such a refreshing change from what we get to see today. If this is 1950s noir, i want to see more of it.

  2. I didn't realize till your review that its been so long since we've had a hitchcock style thriller to appreciate.

    Check out the red queen and cheshire cat in Alice.... :)

  3. Shutterland is a nice movie. It is film that will leave you breathless. I have to say this film was full of intrigue that can be one of reason that I enjoyed this film till the end..

  4. I liked it, and I don't even like psychological thriller movies.


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