Sunday, June 1, 2014

Shutter Island (spoilers)

I was really disappointed by Shutter Island (dir Martin Scorsese, 2010) - what a heavy-handed waste of cinematic technique!  I get that this is supposed to be film noir and I am happy to make allowances for the dialogue being a bit stilted as this is set in the 50s but do we have to endure 138 minutes of this contrived, corny nonsense?

DiCaprio is compelling, as always, and the other A-list celebs add some cachet, but I found the writing to be extremely laboured and the storyline lacked the necessary punch.

Visually it was great - lots of moody cliff shots and dark corridors in the asylum - and there were some powerful moments; a couple of the dream sequences worked really well and Michelle Williams was effective and convincing.  The story had enough potential interest to carry me along to the end but only just - the exposition and edgy direction became tiresome really quickly.

I am sure a director with Scorsese's chops was very deliberate about every element of this movie but the jump cuts etc did not work for me. Surely he could have created tension and the idea that all was not as it seemed in other ways?  

The scene in the cave with campfire flames leaping in front of the actors' faces drove me mad!  And when use of lighting matches during the conversation with Noyce... good grief! There are dozens of continuity errors (some deliberate, I know).  Kingsley and von Sydow were weak and cartoonish. There was hardly any chemistry between Leo and Ruffalo (who was also totally unconvincing as a psyche doctor, imo).  The music was ridiculous.  

I also found the use of the holocaust flashbacks to be a very trivialising - it seemed like a cheap device.  Totally unnecessary. 

People say that this movie is much better second time around but I suspect life is too short for me to justify giving it another go.  The story could have been much more compact and fast paced and there are many ways this could have filmed more effectively. It raises an interesting philosophical question about what is acceptable in filmmaking.  If a movie keeps secrets from the viewer right up until the end but this makes it a less than stellar experience on the first viewing (to the point of being clunky and annoying)... ? This seems like a failing of the director to me.

Even though I do not agree with his star rating here, Roger Ebert puts it beautifully

"The uncertainty it causes prevents the film from feeling perfect on first viewing. I have a feeling it might improve on second. Some may believe it doesn't make sense. Or that, if it does, then the movie leading up to it doesn't. I asked myself: OK, then, how should it end? What would be more satisfactory? Why can't I be one of those critics who informs the director what he should have done instead?

Oh, I've had moments like that. Every moviegoer does. But not with "Shutter Island." This movie is all of a piece, even the parts that don't appear to fit. There is a human tendency to note carefully what goes before, and draw logical conclusions. But -- what if you can't nail down exactly what went before? What if there were things about Cawley and his peculiar staff that were hidden? What if the movie lacks a reliable narrator? What if its point of view isn't omniscient but fragmented? Where can it all lead? What does it mean? We ask, and Teddy asks, too."

Maybe I have missed the subtlety of Shutter Island. Maybe I should read Dennis Lehane's novel. Maybe I should give the film another go.  I just feel let down that this could have brilliant from the sum of its parts but, in the end, the whole was just a bit crap.

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