If, following the last of these 500-or-somesuch words I’ve committed to Martin Scorsese’s moody mystery-thriller Shutter Island, you take with you not one jot besides, I’ll still rest easily if I know that, at the merest, we’re clear on one point: That dude with the milky eye and the basketball-seam staple-scar splitting his face like a fleshy, listing Prime Meridian?
Not Robert De Niro.
And it ain’t SVU’s Christopher Meloni, either. His name’s Elias Koteas. He’s Canadian; he’s Casey Jones; he’s awesome.
Now that I’ve had a chance to cool down, I suppose what I said back up there in the lede isn’t wholly accurate. For one thing: no pressure. I like to think I’ll sleep very nearly the same no matter what it is, if anything, that you’re able to pry up/brush off/salvage from amid this mildly fevered thought-spaghetti, so please don’t concern yourself on my account. For another: I guess if I were to take a more earnest shot, I mean really let loose with what I’d like to communicate to you about this film, it’d be something different.
The problem is, I can’t.
Not, like, “I don’t know how,” or “I have an emotional block against it” or something, but I just can’t.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the worst review ever written.
(Hey, I’m as nonplussed about it as you are. I mean, shoot, it’s got my name on it.)
Of course, I can tell you some things. It’s 1954, and Leo DiCaprio arrives, through a whole mess of mist, at Shutter Island, a “hospital” (in much the same way that a tank is a “mode of transportation”) for folks who’ve gone all nutter-butter and murdery (or attempted-murdery), intending to investigate the apparent disappearance of a woman who, they say, is so delusional about having drowned her three children that she serenely believes the Island to be her old neighborhood, where her life remains intact, her kids unaltered. His search, beset by nightmares both horrific and sweetly haunting, winds a twisted path of contradiction and paranoia through the dark corridors and rocky cliffsides of the ancient isle, punctuated by questionable, uneasy relationships with shifty doctors, violently unstable inmate-patients, even a “partner” who may not be what he seems — any or all of whom may be guarding the Island’s ultimate, maddening secret.
I can also tell you what I liked about it. The cast is star-spangled and solid: DiCaprio’s Boston quack is either growing on me or getting pretty good, and he carries the picture’s weight admirably, playing tortured here at least as well as I’ve seen him do in recent years. Ruffalo, for whom I’ve a soft spot (screen You Can Count on Me if you don’t), seems natural, as always, though Leo’s protag is given the meatiest bits. Kingsley and von Sydow, as one expects, acquit themselves with class, and Jackie Earle Haley gets a showy-but-kinda-fun turn as a fat-lipped asylum resident. (Oddly, something about the cave-hermit-with-a-twist character played by Patricia Clarkson, with whom I’m otherwise quite taken, didn’t seem dirtied-up enough `both physically and psychologically` for my tastes.) The music’s good (if a bit dominant, once or twice). Dashes of purposely twitchy trick editing (by the legendary Ms. Schoonmaker, naturally) — though potentially risky, I suppose — are pleasing touches, marrying technique to theme and reinforcing the film’s smoke-and-mirrors climate.
What I really can’t explain with any significant measure of specificity is my hesitation in recommending Shutter Island wholeheartedly, to all comers. Which is frustrating. Or, again, I literally could, but not without rather instantly spreading the very seed that compromised my own enjoyment. Instead, I’ll try this: With some movies, Shutter Island included, there exists a condition that may change during the viewing process that, while it may not necessarily ruin the experience, will often dramatically alter something fundamental about it, rendering it a different sort altogether. I know that’s not much; and yet it may be too much. I’ll tell you what: See it, then email me. We’ll talk.
That silliness aside, I enjoyed Shutter Island. Some films have only the aforementioned “condition” to offer; this one was entertaining and engaging enough besides that even my modified “experience” was still a good one — pulpy, fun, and well worthwhile.
(Seriously, though: Email me.)