Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Double Whammy!! (Shutter Island 2010)

Those Oovie machines and their free DVD hire sure makes doing this sort of thing easy...
Normal Spoiler warning, also I have never read the book the movie is based on. (So don't email me and tell me how it works better in print etc.) Adaptation is a funny and not entirely modern concept, and I generally attempt to view an adapted work on it's own merits and in context with the original rather than comparing the two works. (Otherwise I'd be like my mother and like the Mini Series version of "The Shining". Don't worry I endless rib her about that one to her face as well as on the interweb.)

But onto an island of shutters. I do get sick, when watching modern film of reviewing with the single line; "It fell apart in the third act.". Which is unfortunately what Martin Scorsese's psychological thriller does, not with a bang but with a silent whimper.
The opening of the film is a nice, if not slightly overblown, setup for what promises to be a creepy journey down the psychological rabbit-hole of 1950's mental care. Like any good mystery the first act sets up many questions, why is a Mental Hospital guarded by correctional officers? Why do they and the doctors seem to ignore the remit of a pair of Federal Marshals? What crazy fucked up shit is happening in ward C? The second gives us complications, Nazi experiments? Is Marshal Daniels being used? A hurricane hits etc. The third, in the old book of three act structure should deliver the resolution, or in modern films the screw you twist.

Here we hit one of the two problems with the movie. Too often I feel that modern film attempts to outwit it's audience, whilst not being so complicated that it makes them feel like they are being outwitted. The result outwits no-one, shocks a few and bores the rest. That is the issue with Shutter Island. The twist is telegraphed early on, not that hard to guess, and not all that satisfying. It suffers that standard issue with many modern film that question the nature of reality, that it removes doubt when the plot is resolved. The CG and the Green screen phantasmagoria disappear and the film itself becomes stable when the protagonist learns of the secret of the island, characters that were threatening are no longer so.

The second is to do with digital production. Sometimes I feel that big budget films have this endless toolbox of digital post and CG effects, such a large toolbox that film makers have started to loose the language of film making whilst using it. Whilst the de-saturated palette makes for a great mood, and dreams and nightmares can be vividly created on screen using CG, in the process the language gets garbled. Some of the dream symbolism is inconsistent and often misleading, I assume deliberately as many of the other aspects of the movie seem very deliberately planned. (Subtle things like the Green screen boat ride, the wife being always covered in water, the subtle use of language in some places.) But why for example is the vision of the woman who drowned her children bloody? I could understand after the ending that the woman is bloody and the children aren't... But that ain't so. So I can only assume the loads of blood are either misleading deliberately OR are for shock.

But that is a minor quibble about symbolism, the majority is quite effective when it is subtle and not so when it isn't. (Bloody kids, Wives turning to ash etc.) Ultimately the mystery is far more interesting then the solution. Leonardo DiCaprio's character is just a little too hard boiled for us to care about his past as more than a vehicle for the mystery.
One thing I do like is that the point of view is firmly fixed on the protagonist, we don't see behind closed doors or outside the character's senses. To often is the temptation to do just the opposite which is the downfall of many "nature of subjective reality" films. (ie. The Matrix and that F#$*ing steak scene)

Overall, refer to the one line review above...

Tell next time.