Friday, February 19, 2010

A Review: Scorsese + Dicaprio + Mental Institution = Holy Shit Almighty

Well, let's not be too hasty hear, we do have of course, the wonderful, the skilled, the one and only, Dennis Lehane. The #1 New York Times best selling author of Mystic River. Also the pen of Gone Baby Gone. Both which were made into Academy Awarding nominated and winning films. So needless to say, the guy is a reliable source of adaptation.

With my jacket, scarf and boots secured tight, I walked from the parking lot to the theaters doors while my hair blew in the breeze of the night. In the breeze of the forty-four degree weather (warmer as of late).I was comprised with a strict anticipation and excitement of what I as about to see last night at the 12:01 showtime. And I'll tell you why. Marty Scorsese is one of the VERY FEW guarantees out of the whole (tinsel) town. As far as directors go, I'd be hard pressed to find someone with as good and pristine a track record as Big Marty boy-o. I mean, when I hear Scorsese, I hear "Cinematic Maestro" in my head. And this film is a perfectly exemplifies why...

Shutter Island stars Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams and Ben Kinsley. And they all carry this film on it's shoulders with the intensity and A-game bringing of... well... actor's in a Martin Scorsese film. Summed up, in 1954, two U.S. Marshals in investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane on an island in Massachusetts. They run into trouble when they are deceived by the hospital's chief administrator, a hurricane hits, they uncover a sinister experiment, patients escape, and all hell breaks loose. Plain and simple right? Wrong sucka...

This film is firing on all cylinders for reasons that don't even occur to you right away; until you realize... you're feeling this film stirring your insides. With the use of Robbie Robertson, a long time collaborator with Big Marty, they create an ensemble of previously recorded material to use in the film. No original soundtrack was written for this. According to a statement on Paramount's website: "The collection of modern classical music [on the soundtrack album] was hand-selected by Robertson, who is proud of its scope and sound. 'This may be the most outrageous and beautiful soundtrack I’ve ever heard.' [Robertson stated]." Not only was it a smart move, but we really feel that like the '54 setting, we're also there in the film's production. The classic and yet updated but slightly cliche' "Du Du! Of Doom" drums echos the time-frame of the of films back then as well. The atypical soundtrack and score of the film fits perfectly and fluidly with every nook and cranny Scorsese and Robertson tuck it into. From the moment they step off the boat until the jeep drops them through both check-point gates, the drums and brass and strings grab you and tell you what's happening, and I loved it. The ominous and doomy music bellows the imminent danger and horror each situation is capable of. 

And that's it folks, this film in a nutshell is old-school Hard-Boiled detective fiction, new-school Horror film tactics, both mixed in nicely with some good old-fashioned Psychological Thriller. An on-your-toes, hair on your neck, psychological investigation.

From the first shot, a ferry carting the detectives towards the island, we feel fear. We feel a pulling sensation in our mind that tell us something concerning our safety. Compare the opening shots of the film, which is the Island to the first time shots of Skull Island, the home of King Kong himself. We feel like we should be in Jurassic Park at times, with the large and beautiful scope of the terrain, of the wondrous use of the trees, the forests and bushes and green grass. We feel the atmosphere of The Hours, Vertigo and Psycho. The presence of the psychological oppression in Kubrick film's The Shinning, Eyes Wide Shut, and A Clockwork Orange are sensed and very appreciated here in deed. Hitchcock would nod his head at the man we all know as Marty if he could do so today, I'll tell you that son. 

Laeta Kalogridis penned the script from the book. Laeta, who gave us such bombs as Pathfinder and Alexander, though the latter could have been more of Oliver Stone performing his "rewrites" again. It does kind of tend to get a little stuck in the middle once something happens and the audience tends to feel that, "The hell do we go from here?" vibe. And one could argue it does little but bounce from one spot on the island to the next incomprehensibly until the memorable ending. But I disagree, and appreciate the guess-again elements of the film. As U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is driven more and more to the brink, so is his search for the truth of many things. 

And what better place to keep throwing psychological curve balls and plot change-ups than a mental institution on an island in a hurricane? In that respect, the film soar's higher and high and never comes down from the first shot of teddy barfing in the ferry's bathroom. 

And although not without it's annoying flaws (and I don't mean the ending) has some inner-works and soulful pieces of Film Noir itself. A damaged, bent-outa-shape hero, with emotional baggage and a large chip on their shoulder, which makes them an antihero and ultimately more interesting for a good character development. Sketchy supporting character(s) who provide the moral compasses, and add some balance or normality, or do they? The every plaguing questions in a cop-needs-the-truth I'll-bring-it-to-justice scenario; which is terrific irony considering something they need to be brought to justice themselves.

Scorsese molds a real gifted performance out of Dicaprio. This man, is most definitely and actor's director and knows exactly how to get what he wants, and more importantly, nothing less than the best from his actors. Teddy Daniels, the tortured, broken, and utterly determined U.S. Marshal. With all the trappings of good craftsmanship, this role is very well fleshed out in deed, never giving too much, and always giving us so much more we didn't know we wanted, as the film, does rest solely on Dicaprio's shoulders. And he carries the weight like Atlas and holds it high above himself. It will behoove us to watch for this performance of his, to see if it "still exists" around Oscar Season, and Nod time. I don't see how he didn't just give all he has to in order show us why he is such a valuable commodity in today's world of cinema (He already has, but this is more like just a reminder). 

And not just Leo did a stupendous job. Not many other directors alive has a greater knowledge and grasp of cinematic execution and precision than Scorsese. He brings it to bear in every scene and every shot, of Shutter Island. One almost thinks of The Dark Knight or The Godfather parts 1 and 2, in the mastery of the camera. I follow his every film that comes out, and have gone back to visit the ones I didn't get a chance to see in theaters, years ago. This man found his craft early and kept it going all through the years, only making it look better and more refined as the technology allowed him to flesh more of himself out. Is this the best film released in February since Silence of the Lambs?

The production design is terrific, from the rusty and dirty caverns they call cells, so bad you can almost smell them. To beautiful mansion of the hospital's chief physician, Dr. John Cawley. A character played not sinisterly, not menacingly, but atypically benevolently and politely by Sir Ben Kingsly. And to the same effect and ideally placed, Max Von Syndow as Dr. Jeremiah Naering, physician. These are the doctors who give off the best and most uncomfortable vibes of the film because you have no reason not to trust them, but yet, why don't I want to? They are being cooperative aren't they? But wait, they sort of dodged that question didn't they? And why can't we just interrogate everyone we need to? And why? ...And why? ...And why? Which is what you can expect from the film's tone paired wonderfully with the transcending performances cinematography, music and everything in between. 

On an end note, I haven't seen many people say much about Michelle Williams turn as the, well, I can only say ex wife of Leonardo's Teddy Daniels. But I enjoyed the first and definitely final scene she had with him. She does tell us that she is intending to follow in good footsteps of her late, uh, most-beloved-so-brilliant-and-skilled-baby's daddy I guess?

This film is a mystery, a who's-doing-it kind of thing, and we feel the inner detective working in our minds and really involving ourselves in this picture. Which tome, makes it a blast to see this, and try and guess where and why and how and who.

So, in conclusion to my very fun experience analyzing this most haunting, most indecent (in a good way), this most excellent film, I'll just say this (after I read this little prosey poetry crappy thing again, I thought it was kinda weak and silly but whatever):

When the sea sprays on the rocks and when the air dampens from the approaching storm. Watch for the men in white coats, because they are just doctors and nothing more
...Aren't they? 
Watch for the words out the mouths of the ones you don't know, and more from the one you think you don't anymore. 
A badge wields no comfort and a match gives you the light to see. 
But all these things don't mean diddly when you're miles away from the warmth of the world, from society... or don't they? 
Aren't the most important things...?

Munki Out.

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