Sunday, April 4, 2010

Shutter Island - ****

"Most bombs explode from the outside, but the hydrogen bomb? It implodes. It falls in on itself and goes through a series of internal breakdowns, and creates an explosion a thousand times greater," says a mental patient to U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. It is a particularly resonant line, the poignance of which is revealed in the final moments of the film. Shutter Island works on two levels, one being a straightforward, pulpy detective story, and the other being a psychological thriller which examines the nature of paranoia, insanity, and perception, all of which is kept honest by DiCaprio's performance as a grieving husband haunted by the death of his wife.

The film takes place in 1954, at the height of Cold War paranoia, but that is really just used as a back-drop, for the film needs no outside help in creating tension. Teddy is on Shutter Island investigating the disappearance of one of its patients, but Teddy's motive runs deeper, hoping to uncover a conspiracy on the island and find the man responsible for killing his wife and children. I'll say no more about the plot, because I wouldn't dream of giving any of the details away.

Shutter Island employs a mess of B-movie cliches, right down to the twist ending, and completely works as glorified pulp. But the twist is a brilliant one, which turns all of the cliches upside-down, and transforms the entire film completely, forcing you to reconsider everything you've just seen, from the brilliant performances by a stellar supporting cast (Ben Kingsley is particularly good) to the manner in which it is presented. Scorsese uses a series of images that can be viewed several different ways, depending on your knowledge and understanding of what is going on at a particular moment, which makes Shutter Island a completely different experience a second time around.

With Shutter Island Martin Scorsese breathes some hope into this project. At this point, roughly twenty films into the year, twenty films ranging from bad to awful (with the lone exception being The Spy Next Door), something merely good would have done just fine. But instead Scorsese delivers an absolute masterpiece that is easily the best thing he has done in the last decade, which is no small feat.

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