For all the movies we've seen this last decade about men with mental problems, delusions and so on, Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island" is the first one that doesn't try to be too cool and modern. In fact, it inhabits its time so well, that if it weren't for some of the main character's recurrent dreams, we could easily think it's happening in this time and age. But the year is 1954, and there's still this little contradiction. Scorsese, a wise and experienced director, doesn't intend to make a period piece in which we should feel 'as if we were in 1954'. No. Because this is the adaptation of a novel, and because he knows cinema and genres like few out there, he gives U.S Marshals Teddy (Leo DiCaprio) and Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) a couple of film-noir type classy hats when we first meet them and also charges the film with a musical feeling that, without being to invasive, takes us back to classic eras. However, the truth is that he is just plain interested in setting the premises for a freaking nightmare; and that's an idea that ultimately makes him and the movie more modern than anyone else.
No one is pretending in "Shutter Island". This is not a movie that has been improvised, shot with some kind of 'let's see how it goes'. It's not the director's usual territory, but that doesn't mean that he's going to step on new territory with trembling hands. No, the one who does that will be Teddy, in a ride that haunts and frightens the viewer, confusing him at the same time. Teddy and Chuck arrive to the Island to resolve the disappearance of a demented patient, but once Teddy finds out about a conspiracy, there's no way back. "Shutter Island" grabs you and never lets you go until the last minute. Scorsese's always been good at that.
Still the territory remains new and unexplored for the viewer: it's Scorsese's slowest (yes, it's the word) film in years; there are few specific sets and locations, there's few action and very few characters to meet. We realize when leaving the theatre that the camera doesn't leave Teddy for an instant and that the director's highest interest is to keep track of everything that goes on in his conflicted mind. It's almost claustrophobic, but in the end it works because the interest the film has for Teddy is genuine and there's never an intention of fooling the viewer. No mind blowing script trick to generate an unforgettable ending, no speeding things up to jump into easy conclusions; "Shutter Island" is the first movie of this kind that ends circularly and because of character. This means the film starts the end credits and we know it hasn't ended but we believe it, because of the things mentioned above. This is easier to understand if you've seen films like "The I Inside", "The Butterfly Effect" and "Secret Window"; the last two not bad films, just movies that reached its conclusion in a convenient and abrupt way, not gradually.
Every aspect of the film is handled with the most of care so Teddy's journey really seems gradual. Even the recurrent dreams in all its different shapes, which are bound to upset and tire you, appear as completely necessary. There's no trick there; just great film-making by a fantastic crew. The cinematography of Robert Richardson, Thelma Schoonmaker in the editing room. And DiCaprio's performance (another giant work) helps a lot, considering that he continues to hold the title of "Hollywood's most intense look" and that he might be, right now, the only Hollywood star capable of delivering a tour-de-force with complete conscience of his range; of where it starts and where is the limit he shouldn't exceed. I go crazy with Clooney's abilities, but I know it's himself and it's effortless; I love Depp's eccentricity but I admit that this decade in movies he's been long gone from the real world as we know it; I admire Day Lewis' excesses, but I still can't be touched by a performance that's so intentionally over the top (I could go on with the names, believe me).
But DiCaprio...He always seems to be trying really hard and his face a lot of times looks like suffering itself. And that's what makes him real. That's why we choose to believe the things he experiences here and in so many other movies could be happening to him. He's not so out of reach; he doesn't even start to buy what's going on himself. Someone like Jack Dawson with the chance of boarding the Titanic? Really?
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