Overlooked Film of the Week-#83
I think one of my favorite genres of film is the psychological thriller. I love when a movie sets up an elaborate puzzle for me solve, I love when a movie gets in my head and plays games with me. I know this is not a venture for everyone, but it certainly works for me time and again. One thing I loved about the 2000's era of film, that decade was rich with psychological thrillers. I particularly remember the year 2001 as a high watermark for the genre. I love films like "Mulholland Drive," "Memento" (which I still feel is the best film of that decade) and "Vanilla Sky." There were also many other films that worked well in the years that followed. Since 2010 however, it seems a good brain-teaser of a movie is harder to come by. I think that is why I find myself revisiting "Shutter Island" so much.
We all know at this point that Martin Scorsese is more than just a filmmaker, he is a man that brings poems to life. Nearly everything he touches seems to turn to gold, even though he is famous for gangster pictures. Although he has made so many remarkable films in his career, a few still slip away. Not every movie a director makes is a classic, at least the whole world may not be united in the front to declare each movie a classic. I still think that there are great films being made by great filmmakers all the time, and sometimes a few of those films get away from them. I don't understand why "Shutter Island" is not held on the same pedestal as "Goodfellas," or "Mean Streets," or "Raging Bull" or "Taxi Driver," or "The Departed," or "The Age of Innocence," or any other popular Scorsese movie. I find "Shutter Island" to be the best piece of art with Scorsese's name on it so far this decade, and yes that includes "Hugo" and "Boardwalk Empire." I think the film presented a new door for Scorsese and he easily walked right through it. He made psychological terror just as relevant as shocking gangland violence. So why are we not talking about this movie constantly still? How did "Hugo" get so much more exposure from the awards circuit than "Shutter Island" the year before?
I remember there were some scheduling conflicts that kept this movie out of 2009. The movie was originally going to be released Winter of 2009, just in time for the awards season. Then some scheduling problems occurred and the film was released February of 2010. The months of January and February are generally left for the early clunkers of each year. But "Shutter Island" became the best film of the winter quickly. This is due in large part to the work by Leonardo DiCaprio. This is an actor I find overacts quite a bit. I find it hard to really focus on him in some of his movies, and a truly great performance by him is hard to come by, even in "Gangs of New York." Here, DiCaprio hit all the right notes perfectly. I think if the film had come out in 2009, DiCaprio could have been nominated for a best Lead Actor for the Oscars. And, dare I say it, he could have won.
DiCaprio plays U.S. Marshall Edward "Teddy" Daniels. Daniels, along with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are going to Shutter Island, a psychiatric prison for the criminally insane. Apparently, a high-risk patient has fled her cell and is on the island somewhere and they are planning to help find her. Teddy Daniels is one flawed guy, and I love how "Shutter Island" plays almost like a film noir in the opening of the film. The U.S. Marshalls are introduced to Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carol Lynch), Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) all of whom run the prison. Something is immediately off about the entire place, from the way the doctors run things on the island, to the patients themselves. Teddy also has motives of his own and he is conducting his own independent investigation revolving around a particular inmate.
But that all happens before we learn that Shutter Island may or may not be experimenting on the patients for the government, leading to one of the most jaw-dropping endings in a movie in years. Brought to life by the searing cinematography by Robert Richardson and elevated by a score by Rhino Records, "Shutter Island" becomes an invading motion picture. As good as DiCaprio is, the entire cast does incredibly good work. The film also features two unforgettable performances by Michelle Williams and Emily Mortimer, Mortimer in particular ruling my nightmares after viewing this film for the first time. This is some of the best work Williams has ever done.
If you haven't had the pleasure of visiting "Shutter Island" yet, I prefer you do so quick.