Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Shutter Island" review (Massive Spoiler Alert 4 Months Too Late)

Sunday, April 4 2010

Just saw "Shutter Island", finally. Wow! What's to say? Read on, dear reader...

What a turgid bore of a disappointment this film turned out to be!

As it turns out, I was walking south on Madison Avenue today (Easter Sunday 2010), and I ended up walking right behind Woody Allen and Soon-Yi (sp?).
I wanted to tell the Woodeth that I had just seen Scorsese's latest and that said film SUCKED. But I didn't.
I shoulda.

Whatever happened to the quick, tight, clever Scorsese, who had a great NY sense of humor, who directed the classic "After Hours" and the ultimate B-movie remake of all time, "Cape Fear"?

I found "Shutter Island" dull and overwrought; it was not the campy B-thriller I thought it was going to be.
Uli Edel's  "Body of Evidence" was more fun than this, by far. 

I kept thinking, as I pedalled home in the dark (along the Hudson River [a much more scary ride than Scorcese's engorged opus]), the  film could have been...tighter. And more witty, and full of more surprise.

Also, I thought that if the film was supposed to be an homage, of sorts, to scary B-movies about the insane, it should have been funnier, like "High Anxiety" or "The Tennant" or "Rosemary's Baby", something like that.
It should have been a bit more tongue-in-cheek.

Instead, it's supremely overwrought, and takes itself wayyyy too seriously.

I don't necessarily blame Scorcese, although he uses tons of crane shots (inside) and overhead POVs and slow tracking shots, etc, which make the movie a  a bit too "serious" for a B-movie homage.
Far better was "Cape Fear" a TRUE B-movie. Also, Scorcese's acrobatic camera work in this film seems oddly "staged" for special scenes, rather than locked into the film's pacing.
It's as if someone less talented than Scorcese directed most of the movie, but called in the grand auteur for those special scenes.
In "After Hours", you couldn't really figure out what you loved so much about the movie until you watched it a second or third time.
The writing in "After Hours" was brilliant, but it was also a perfect match for Scorcese's directorial style at the time: fluid, canny, and full
of surprises.

But back to "Shutter Island".
It's a B-movie, supposedly, so there shouldn't be so much maudlin emotion and crying and back-story. Can you see Robert Mitchum crying?
Even when he's just killed his wife, after she kills his kids?

The element that sinks "Shutter Island" is the writing. You can only make a B-movie with a tight storyline, and surprises.
I haven't read Lehane's novel, but it's seems convoluted and hokey and derivative, more of a "Silence of the Lambs" ripoff than a tight,
noirish thriller.

Of course there's a whole alter-ego premise, as Leo's character is supposed to be a cop investigating the disappearance of a patient
at a mental hospital (although he's actually an inmate at the hospital, which was pretty obvious from the reviews when the movie first opened).

But if you're going to create an insane alter-ego for your protagonist, why not come up with some more clever parallels between the protagonist's
situation and that of his alter-ego? Instead, Lehane has his central protagonist come up with all of these arbitrary and complex delusions
exculpating the character from the crime he committed to get him locked up in the insane asylum.

Leo's character shoots his wife after she drowns her kids, so why all of this hogwash about Leo's character trying to find the
fellow asylum inmate who supposedly killed her by setting a fire? It's kind of muddled and unimaginative and grasping, as if the writer is trying to
figure out where he's going with the story as the narrative unfolds.
Couldn't Leo's cop character have been looking for the inmate at the asylum who "shot" his wife?
Why a fire? I guess it's to throw off suspicion about
Leo's character, since he's a cop who's always armed?

The other thing that bugged my about the movie was all of the verbal exposition. Didn't Lehane, or the scriptwriter learn that basic rule which
obliges writers to reveal plot twists by actions, as opposed to having characters explain said plot twists in long, dull monologues?

Maybe Joe Esterhaus should have written the script. If Esterhaus (if he's still alive) had written the script, it would have no doubt been
a lot leaner and probably funnier, as well (although it may have been unintentionally funny, but most great B-movies are unintentionally funny).

Great conspiracy movies with twist endings are few and far between, but when they work, it's a true revelation.
And seeing "Shutter Island" really makes me realized how spoiled I am by all of the foreign films and indie movies I've seen in recent years.
It seems that the larger the budget for American movies, the more inclined they are to suck!
A good example of a "Shutter Island"-type movie which actually works is "Los Otros" by the Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar, and even his film
"Abre Los Ojos". In both of these films, damaged characters live in delusional states until reality is forced upon them. Another film which comes to mind is
Francois Ozon's "Sous le Sable", in which a woman believes her suicide-victim husband is simply missing.
Why are foreign films so much better than American films?

The reviewer in "The Guardian" hit the nail squarely on the head when he wrote that a true B-movie adaptation of "Shutter Island" would have been
a lot "leaner" and wouldn't have run to two and a half hours.

The performers were all quite good, with one actress really standing out: the woman who played Mrs. Kerns, a patient at the hospital who was
convicted of an ax murder.