Artists sometimes become larger than their actual work, making their signature a stamp of quality. In film, this is particularly evident with concern to directors as they usually have a significant impact on the artistic impression. There are definitely business factors and budgets that drive the movie industry, but there are some directors, or artists, whose influence rises above that of Hollywood. Martin Scorsese is one such director.
This signature of quality was a major factor in my own wariness to see Scorsese’s new thriller Shutter Island opening weekend. There had been months of wavering buzz and an advertising campaign that rattled off many of Marty’s blockbusters, practically screaming that if he could pull off those hits, you’d be bound to love his new movie. With all that aside, Scorsese delivers with a film that could only be made and made his way because of his artistic clout.
It’s 1954 and U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) has been assigned the daunting task of finding an escaped patient from of all places, a mental institution/prison on an island off the Massachusetts’ coast. He and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), quickly realize the peculiar nature of their investigation and eventually the imminent danger of staying on the island. But like a good noir style film, Scorsese keeps the audience waiting for answers, only to unload more questions and dead-ends.
Not only do the electrified barriers surrounding the complex become a concern, but more apparent, the head physicians in charge of the facility. The strange Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and his associates not only avoid questions but also seem to be keeping secrets from the investigators. Daniels begins to question whether he is investigating the missing patient or the facility itself, digging further into the mysteries of the island. Yet, this intense investigation may come at the cost of his sanity as he continually reflects on the death of his wife in flashbacks and nightmares. At this point the story dizzily starts to unravel as we delve into the madness of Shutter Island.
Scorsese nails so many aspects of this film. The noir style is perfect with ominous lighting, detective style wardrobe, and a dramatic, nail-biting score. He has created a world and a mood that is an immersion into the artistry of Scorsese. With all of the madness on screen, the images still feel real with a nod to the classic film-noir style. Film buffs will get a treat out of this portion alone. But more importantly, Scorsese brilliantly knows how to get the best out of his actors. Every actor, including long-time colleague DiCaprio, understand their role in the story and beautifully draw the viewer into their characters.
The artist/director Martin Scorsese has made Shutter Island his way without any hesitations. He is at that point in his celebrated career where he can do pretty much whatever he wants creatively and make it his own. It’s not his best work, but with his signature stamp of approval, it definitely would hold up against similar work.
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