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An Orbital Lobotomy

by Roger Young / 15.03.2010

Shutter Island is exquisitely directed, its performances are superb and it is beautifully shot, none of which stops it from being a gigantic letdown. I have long been a fan of Scorcese, Taxi Driver is the reason I got into filmmaking in the first place, but as the saying goes: “All your heroes become bores eventually”.

If I hadn’t ever seen a Scorcese movie I might have enjoyed Shutter Island but I have seen the Gothic horror and water preoccupation of Cape Fear, I’ve seen the bloodied faces of Boxcar Bertha, I’ve heard Leo do his Boston accent and cop shtick in The Departed, I’ve seen Robbie Robertson in the hot tub in American Boy and I’ve seen the maybe question everything rear view mirror shot at the end of taxi driver. The ultimate problem with Shutter Island is not that it comes across as the greatest bits of Scorcese, it comes across as a B-side compilation. A series of brilliantly executed, half-finished rough ideas. The blame for this mess however must be put squarely on Dennis Lehane, on whose book this was based. Scorcese must have skimmed through it and seen the implications of a gothic horror about guilt (Scorcese only makes films about guilt) and thought that this could be Di Caprio’s Cape Fear.

Leo and Ben

Leo plays Teddy Daniels, a fifties Federal Marshall who has been called out to investigate an impossible escape from an asylum for the criminally insane on a remote island. And that’s all I can tell you without telling you the ending, seriously, because if you can’t work out the ending from what happens next, shit, if you didn’t work out the ending from watching the trailer, you have no business going to the movies. The problem with the conceit of the film is that in order to trick the key “villain” into believing that he is in control needs to involve such an improbable set of events, timed with a specific state of mind, that would make it almost impossible to predict or plan for. Yet this is what the whole film is predicated on, and so impossible are those circumstances that when the big reveal happens, it takes a full 8 and half minutes for the characters to explain how it came about. Not what, because the what is evident from minute twelve of the film.

Shutter Island

It’s admirable that Scorcese seems to take this as a given and concentrate purely on building suspense through fantastic set pieces. The ploy, of course, doesn’t work because as Shutter Island limps to the close like a beaten dog, all the fine eye grabbing camera moves, spooky lighting and understated but over the top performances couldn’t convince you that there was the remotest chance of probability in this film. Yes, I get that film is about suspending your disbelief, but Shutter Island doesn’t want you merely to suspend your disbelief it, wants you to submit to an orbital lobotomy in a lighthouse.

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