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Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio

"Shutter Island"; a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

There's a scene toward the end of Martin Scorcese's "Shutter Island," which may be the only stretch of the film you have to watch and listen to carefully. Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Teddy Daniels, is alone, walking near a road in a wooded area. He's picked up and given a short ride in a jeep driven by a man in a dark police uniform. The man at the wheel is the Warden of the Shutter Island Mental Facility, played by Ted Levine. Notice the look in Mr. Levine's eyes as he speaks his lines. Again, that comes toward the end of the film.

What the Warden says to Teddy in the brief scene is a ranting homily about how much God loves and encourages violence. But it's best that you hear it without too much prep. Just tune-in to it---and think about what the Warden believes. It might rattle your soul some since there are so many people who subscribe to what the Warden professes.

If you try to listen as closely to everything else that's spoken in the movie, you'll likely become confused, even while there's a chance you might pick up on the telegraphed conclusions that come to pass in the film---as "Shutter Island" struggles on.

I haven't read Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same title, so I have no opinion as to whether it's a worthy piece of Fiction or not. But I'd take a wild guess that it's likely the screen adaptation, by Laeta Kalogridis, doesn't do justice to the book.

"Shutter Island" takes a trip---or maybe I should re-phrase that by saying---it takes a bad trip in every sense of meaning that line might communicate. It didn't make much of a grab on my attention until the scene I described in the first paragraph, including the movie's close. A fairly good payoff comes after "cute" games are played reel-after-reel-after-reel that might make you weary.

Scorcese has gone to a place where Ron Howard took me with his film, "A Beautiful Mind" (2001). The striking thing about that movie is how it lets the viewer drift, unknowingly, into some understanding about mental illness that might not have been imparted had "A Beautiful Mind" been written differently.

Well, director Scorcese does the same thing with "Island," but he beats you over the head with the conceit until you imagine you're as bloodied as the many people victimized in the script are. It's almost as if Quentin Tarantino directed "Island," given the fumbling, thumping harshness of his "Inglorious Basterds."

"Shutter Island" has an operatic feel to it without the arias---unless you want to include an overload of shouted dialogue and torturous screaming often heard in the many asylums on the prison campus. Teddy and his federal marshal partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), are ferrying to Shutter Island to detect why an insane female patient has simply disappeared from her cell without a trace. Shutter is eleven miles off Boston, and there's only one way to get on or off the island. That would be the ferry our two guys are aboard as the film opens. The island looms larger to dark stabs of orchestral music as Teddy and Chuck pull more snugly the neat, noirish felt hats they wear. It's 1954.

Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio

Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio

Reality doesn't bite in "Shutter Island," but, dude, it does flip. The further into the film you go, the more everything that's gone before is turned on its head. And not until the final 15 minutes, or so, are things put into a make-sense place the story has been trying to keep from you, yet sluggishly telegraphing some of the bad stuff via nightmares, horrible delusions and shocking violence---most all of it experienced by poor Leonardo DiCaprio. Do they give an Oscar for the best display of endurance in a film?

Two heavyweight actors appear in quasi-sinister roles: The unctuous Sir Ben Kingsley as Dr. Cawley, the lead shrink on Shelter Island, and the spidery Max von Sydow as Dr. Naehring, who you might think shares the same professional standards as Dr. Josef Mengele. Shorter performances are given by Patricia Clarkson, Michele Williams and Emily Mortimer. The only cast members who get away with their stodgy performances are Kingsley and von Sydow. And I must make a more positive mention (again) of Ted Levine as the creepiest asylum warden you'd never hope to meet in a dark alley.

"Shutter Island" is rated R for disturbing images, coarse language and brief frontal male nudity. I don't recommend this film for young people, whatsoever, or for anyone of any age who might be easily disturbed by thoughts regarding insanity and/or images of deceased children.

I wonder if we can lobby Hollywood to get Clint Eastwood ("Mystic River") to direct a film I hope will be made in the near future that would be titled, "The Given Day," the latest novel by Dennis Lehane. I read it in January. It's set at the close of WWI in Boston and Tulsa.

"Shutter Island" official site.

Now playing at the AMC Southroads 20 in Tulsa.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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