SCI FI Wire Atom Feed




Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Avatar" could stand to learn a lot from "Shutter Island".

Shutter Island
review by Brent Sweeting

3 1/2 out of 4 stars

All during the first half of "Shutter Island", I kept thinking to myself, "I hope James Cameron is taking notes." "Avatar" will continue to get a lot of press this year about how visually impressive it is. But while the colors and imagery in "Avatar" all felt like they were put in the movie specifically to impress us, "Shutter Island" is one of the most visually stimulating movies I have ever seen and it is all put in place as an additional means of telling us the story.

Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a deputy U.S. Marshall sent to an island-based institution for the criminally insane to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. He and his partner (played by Mark Ruffalo), are immediately met with contempt and coldness by Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who oversees the island, and they quickly realize that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. Teddy is a WWII vet carrying holocaust death camp memories, as well as a widower whose wife (Michelle Williams) was killed in a fire. To say he has "some baggage" would be an understatement. Shortly into the film we find out that Teddy has an ulterior motive for wanting this assignment, and that is only the first of many revelations that continue to unfold throughout the film.

One of the first things that I noticed about "Shutter Island" was how visually interesting it is. Not just the imaginative camera angles and the psychedelic dream sequences, but the use of color as whole. It's as if Martin Scorsese looked at the film after he shot it and went through with a magic watercolor brush touching up every single color in the film. The suit fabric, the background sets, the sky - everything has a slightly romantic otherworldly feel to it, and yet it all has a purpose in telling the story. Nothing is hyper-stylized simply for the sake of wowing the audience or showing off. If you were like me and left "Avatar" feeling overstimulated and like you had been visually distracted from a lackluster script and story, you will be pleasantly surprised with what you find in "Shutter Island".

Unfortunately for this movie, the marketing team has put together trailers and ads that make this look like a supernatural horror film. "Shutter Island" is not a horror movie, but rather a film noir psychological thriller. There are some very disturbing images, make no mistake about it, but this is a movie that has much more in common with a Hitchcock film like "Vertigo", than it does with something like "The Ring" or even "The Sixth Sense".

As I mentioned before, while not a supernatural film, "Shutter Island" is like "The Sixth Sense" in that you will want to re-watch it afterward with a different appreciation of every scene. The writing is extremely smart, and every little scene has nuances that are easy to miss on the first viewing.

Leonardo DiCaprio does a decent job, in spite of a Boston accent that waxes and wanes throughout the movie. There has always been something about him in a role as a cop or tough guy that makes me think of the token "bad boy" in any modern boy band, and I just never quite buy it. His performance gets better and better as the film progresses though, and he totally nails it in the second half of the film. The supporting cast is also strong, with an especially memorable supporting part by Max Von Sydow (Minority Report) as the mysterious Dr. Naehring.

I don't think my Mom could make it through this film. There are numerous holocaust scenes, and a lot of bloody images, some of which include children. If you can stomach this however, and it will be well worth it if you do, "Shutter Island" should absolutely be on your do-not-miss list.

For those of you who prefer to stick with the original source material, here is the book by Dennis Lehane that the movie was adapted from:


  1. I'm so sick of mainstream! This is a breath of fresh air. I felt it reminiscent of Hitchcock. The visuals were incredible, I agree. The soundtrack was in sync w/ every scene. A high caliber cast and excellent lines helped make it. Having said all that, this movie is definitely NOT for everyone. My friend was a tad disappointed. ~BeABombshell

  2. You actually make me want to check out Shutter Island now. I was going to check out The Crazies first but now Shutter Island is back on the table.

  3. First of all Brent, I LOVE your reviewing style.

    Your review was right on about the look of the film and I love everything "Martin Scorsese" even when it isn't his best. This movie was a little long and could have been improved with better editing, however, I still loved it. Leo's performance, in my opinion, is worth the price of admission. He just keeps getting better and better. Regarding the disturbing images, absolutely, be prepared . . . disturbing and upsetting. The acting and the look of the film is amazing. I also agree with "BeABombshell," this is a story I haven't seen before.

  4. I finally had the chance to check out this movie and I completely agree with your analysis of DiCaprio. In the beginning of the film I was put off by him and I thought it would just completely hate it because of his performance but he truly got into it in the second half of the movie and I loved it.

  5. First and foremost: great and accurate review. I totally agree with your assessment of the visuals. Not only were they stunning, but they played an important role in the storytelling. Scorsese used an excellent combination of lighting, weather, color, setting and symbolism (a great use of symbolism) to drive each scene. And I thought the pacing and editing were great. The reason the editing was so good was #1, it was done by an outstanding editor: Thelma Schoonmacher (she also did The Departed and The Aviator) and #2, there were so many details that were important to the story that had to be fit in - not to mention so many time sequences - and she sequenced them pretty seamlessly.

    When I left the theater my first thought was that I need to see this again because there was just too much to the story. That's where it may have appeared that it was too long or needed editing. But I think the actual issue was that it's just a lot to take in. So many details.

    Probably the biggest reason I want to see it again is that I was amazed by how hard it was is to really feel as if I know the truth of the story. I've thought of about three scenarios in my head as to what really happened but I can't settle on any one of them until I see this again. Even then, I think it's going to be a tough call. I think you could make a couple of cases, at least, but I don't want to say anything to spoil it if anyone hasn't seen it.

    One last note: to your point it was most like Hitchcock down to the great music. The music really helped drive the story. Loved it!

  6. First, I love the Paychex ads on your site. I am really glad to see that you reviewed this film since I sawe it last weekend with my wife and 2 friends. We were all affected it by it, and had a good discussion about what he meant by the last line. And, I would not have opted to see this movie based on the trailer, I agree with your assessment that it paints a poor and misleading picture of the film. Based on how weird I felt at the end of th emovie I made a decision not to see it again, but all of these insights have changed my mind.