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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Friday, February 26, 2010

Movie Review: "Shutter Island"

Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
3.5 Stars

I'm pretty sure Winston Churchill wasn't talking about "Shutter Island" when he said, "[it's] a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma," but he might as well have been. If you're not into noir, or Hitchcock, let alone Scorsese, you won't like this movie. Me? I'm in love with all three.

And since we're speaking of amore: Scorsese LOVES Leonardo DiCaprio. Almost immediately, there's a full frame close-up of Leo looking into a mirror. Huge. That's love. That's devotion. Some people don't get that close to their spouse to kiss them.

Set in 1954, the latest Scorsese / DiCaprio "Marvel Team-Up" style picture is a film noir that adheres strictly to the genre's staples. There's loud dramatic music, heavy weather, a sense of foreboding. People wear muted suits, trench coats, fedoras. They chain smoke. Mysteries abound. It's all here. And it's all pretty awesome.

DiCaprio's character and his partner, played by Mark Ruffalo, are US Marshals sent to a fortified institution for the criminally insane, situated on a remote island outside Boston, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a dangerous patient.

It's clear from the outset that something strange is afoot on "Shutter Island." And in case you weren't sure, the loud music and dramatic shots of a literal oncoming storm are there to drive the point home.

The facility is run by two doctors played by the always impeccable (and often sinister) Max Von Sydow (who speaks enough languages to make Christoph Waltz blush) and Ben Kingsley. The warden is played by Ted "she puts the lotion in the basket" Levine, aka Buffalo Bill from "Silence of the Lambs." Ben Kingsley is so great at being ambiguously sinister -- you NEVER know what he's up to at first, in this film or any other. Good? Bad? Neither? The guy, quite simply, is one of the greats. Admit it, even "Gandhi" was a little bit scary from time to time. You wondered what he was hiding. And I mean, "The Love Guru" was horrifying, and he was in that, too.

DiCaprio, who I've thought brilliant since "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," uses his brow a lot when he's acting. There's some furious furrowing going on. His character is repressed, depressed and dealing with the post traumatic stress of being one of the soldiers who liberated Dachau combined with his wife's death in a fire after the war.

As DiCaprio's character begins to realize the facts he's gathering about the girl's disappearance don't add up, Ruffalo's character isn't as alarmed nor invested in the mystery as DiCaprio's. Is that because he's part of the conspiracy? Because he's just a cool cucumber? Because he isn't real? What's his angle, exactly? Hmm.

A few major critics whom I greatly admire have condemned this picture as a mess, with a payoff you can predict so early that it isn't worth being strung along to reach. These critics didn't order red herring when they sat down and they are grumpy with their waiter, Marty, about eating it.


To me, that's part of the fun. No, you can't trust the narrative in the movie, but that's made clear by several clues early on (in my opinion) so you can just sort of enjoy the ride. I liked letting the mood and the tone of the picture envelop me. I enjoyed the journey from point A to point B, even if I saw most of "B" coming pretty early. The acting, directing, art direction and fever dream sequences were all superb, even if the suspenseful moments occasionally felt false thanks to the impending climax. Don't get me wrong, this isn't Martin Scorsese doing M. Night Shyamalan, but I'll admit, it's a little close. But hey, his first two movies were great, anyway!


My biggest problem with the movie was the gratuitous usage of flashbacks from Dachau, (including multiple shots of the frozen bodies of men, women and children stacked up in piles) and the grisly triple child murder that also figures prominently into the plot. I wasn't ready to see that, nor was it necessary for this movie.

Film fanatic / historian and longtime DeNiro collaborator Scorsese has made four movies with Leonardo DiCaprio now, including "Gangs of New York," "The Aviator" and my favorite of all of them, "The Departed." And while "Shutter Island" isn't as good as any of those movies, it's important to note that a sub-par Scorsese picture is still leaps and bounds beyond the average fare that often passes for cinema these days.

1 comment:

Toad734 said...

Overall I liked the movie, it had some great suspense and mystery...at first. I agree with the critics who said you could see the end coming from a mile away. I usually let the movie take its course before I assume to know the ending but this was so obvious it made me start thinking that it was a diversion and there was going to be some 6th sense type twist at the end but that never came. And with the flashbacks with his wife, I don't think they were trying to hide the ending at all but may have intentionally been giving us clues and perhaps to make us even think that there was going to be another twist that never came. I guess that's just as surprising as having the twist.

There were also a couple of plot holes that needed to be filled such as the lady in the cave. Was she real or was he imagining things? Maybe it's obvious but I missed that along with to what extent all the other characters in the movie were involved.

And while Caprio has played some good roles, I don't think he is that great of an actor as you can see him acting. It's just not as genuine or natural as Joe Pesci or someone like that. I think this was particularly evident in this film as well as The Departed.

But it's definitely worth seeing.