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  1.  (7897.1)

    A lot has been said about the movie ANTICHRIST and its disturbing atmosphere. That was the one of the three things about the movie I thought were indeed competent (the others being the cinematography and the actors). Unfortunately, everything else sucked, for when you peel off the layers and layers of biblical symbolism in the film, you find a big fat pile of fuck-all. It's a shallow and mysogynistic film, the latter probably just to be provocative (while not actually adding anything to the film's quality).

    SHUTTER ISLAND, the latest film directed by Martin Scorsese, is not only far more competent (in fact, magnificent) in establishing an opressive and nightmarish atmosphere, it does that while also making sense. It doesn't try to turn its characters into archetypes, or its story into a self-important truth about whatever, and it doesn't give a shit about the bible. Paying careful attention to its complex characters and plot, SHUTTER ISLAND completely immersed me until I had no idea what to believe anymore, and finished me off with an absolutely sublime, gut-wrenching scene. It's a masterpiece.

    In the mid-fifties, U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are sent to a psychiatric institution for the criminally insane in Shutter Island to find out what happened to a escaped patient. A short-fused war veteran with traumatic memories, Daniels dislikes Shutter Island from the very start, noticing how tense the guards seem to be and how everyone seems to be hiding something. Frustrated by the doctors' lack of cooperation, Daniels' investigation becomes more and more aggressive and his suspicions about the island's true nature become much worse than he initially assumed. The screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis (based on the book by Denis Lehane) is carefully and meticulously written, keeping the viewer always unsure of what to believe -- is the clearly unstable Daniels jumping to conclusions, or is the island truly a place with terrible secrets, or perhaps a combination of both?

    And even though Daniels has a temper and a tendency towards passive-aggressive talk, it's hard not to like him or at least not to be fascinated by him; with a strong moral compass and decided not to exploit the personal reasons he has to be conducting the investigation, the film allows us deep into his dreams. Always happening in a beautifully surreal fashion, with papers or snow or other particles drifting around the background and over-exposed lights, they say a lot about Teddy and are so emotionally effective (not to mention visually gorgeous) that it's hard not to forgive the man's temper, considering how badly he seems to cling to his losses. There's a particularly beautiful and heartbreaking shot of Daniels holding a person who turns into ashes in his very arms. The film makes us intimate of the protagonist to the point where his flaws only make him more likeable, not less -- especially when he's surrounded by so many characters who are unwilling to deliver useful information to him and, consequently, to us, the viewer. Teddy keeps nothing from us -- we know what he's thinking and even what he's dreaming.

    This is one of the reasons SHUTTER ISLAND is so successful at atmosphere: we know what Teddy knows. He's our only friend and therefore we share his frustration, his fears, his sadness. But the film manages this without resorting to excesses -- the other characters might be mysterious or unpleasant or not as interesting as Teddy, but they're not cartoony or villainous, resulting in a narrative that is far more subtle than it appears to be. In fact, the first minutes of the film made me wonder about what to expect, since it opened with a boat coming out of the fog, an ominous soundtrack and a dialog exchange that establishes the protagonist's trauma. None of which seemed to be very original, but that was precisely Scorsese's intention: toying with our expectations, manipulating the audience right from the start and masterfully keeping it up until the end credits.

    And the bastard does it. This is Scorsese at the top of his game, and working with a fantastic crew. Thelma Schoonmaker, the brilliant editor who's been with Scorsese for decades, gives every scene perfect pacing, taking its time but never overstaying (especially the amazing dream sequences); director of photography Robert Richardson, another excellent member of the crew, uses a dark, desaturated color palette for the scenes happening in the island, while using an overexposed, brightly colored one for Teddy's dreams -- which creates an impressive and disturbing contrast, considering how surreal, sad and violent they are (in fact, Richardson's colors make the blood in the dreams as red as possible). He and Scorsese also do great camerawork, with beautifully-composed angles; notice how the scene where Teddy talks to a patient in a cell. There's at least three other characters in the cell with them, but Scorsese only focuses on Teddy and the patient, as if only she and him exist in the world -- even when Teddy glances at his companions as if inquiring what to do, the camera stays firmly on him, which makes the scene even more awkward and reinforces our intimacy with Teddy; he feels alone, so do we. Another example is when Teddy is talking to a character near a bonfire, and the composition puts the fire into the angle with the characters' faces, making what they're saying to each other feel even more unsettling.

    (continued in comments)
  2.  (7897.2)
    Also with fantastic production design and an intelligent selection of licensed music, we finally get to the casting. Ben Kingsley and Max von Sidow play mysterious but ambiguous doctors, and do so convincingly, especially Kingsley. Mark Ruffalo, as Teddy's partner, is likeable in his dedication to Teddy and relaxed attitude, while Jackie Earle Haley plays a small, but memorable part (as do Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer, especially the former, who is absurdly convincing in the scene that happens near a bonfire). The casting is homogeneously good, with Leonardo DiCaprio standing out in an astonishing performance, brilliantly portraying a complex character who goes through immense emotional strain.

    In fact, Leonardo DiCaprio and Michelle Williams do a superb job in that which is the most powerful scene in the film, the emotional climax that overshadows the resolution of the plot itself (which is good, since the movie is more about its atmosphere than its plot, despite the latter being very good): the scene that happens by the lake. Here, DiCaprio, Williams, Scorsese, Richardson, Schoonmaker, everyone contributes to a moment so gut-wrenchingly horrific that it took me a few seconds to realize I was cringing. A scene that is more disturbing in the five minutes it lasts than the entire duration of ANTICHRIST.

    I could say that scene alone would be worth watching this film for, but it wouldn't be as effective without the careful build-up to it, plus that is just the best moment among the sea of brilliance that is SHUTTER ISLAND. This film, and its final line of dialogue, will stay with me for a long time.
  3.  (7897.3)
    Andre, get the book and READ THE BOOK.
    IS GOOD BOOK READ IT! Orrr I can have whoever I send my copy to next send it to you when they're done?
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeMar 22nd 2010
    I completely agree with you, the movie was brilliant and I love the last line.
    • CommentTimeMar 26th 2010 edited
    That last line is a chiller. Scorsese managed to frustrate me so much that I thought I hated the film until the third act at which point I did a total reversal of my opinion. Upon reading your critic it dawned on me why. It was that sense of being trapped on that island with Teddy and not being told anything. I can't wait to watch this one again.

    @andre Do you do these critiques after only one theatrical viewing of the film. Are you a rampant note taker in the theater? I notice you miss so very little in these critiques. I've said it before but I may not always see eye to eye on your critique but I always enjoy reading them.
  4.  (7897.6)
    Andre, get the book and READ THE BOOK.

    I shall put it on my list, thanks!

    @andre Do you do these critiques after only one theatrical viewing of the film. Are you a rampant note taker in the theater? I notice you miss so very little in these critiques.

    I don't take notes, except of course mental ones. Whether or not I write based on one viewing depends on the film -- when I'm not sure of my opinion the first time, I watch it a second time, a lesson I learned with THERE WILL BE BLOOD (which I initially disliked and came to love). THE HURT LOCKER, for example, is a film I've watched twice to settle my opinion on it, and I'll write a review soon. When the movie I'm reviewing is on DVD, I'll some times re-watch a few isolated scenes to catch some further details.

    I've said it before but I may not always see eye to eye on your critique but I always enjoy reading them.

    That is the best thing I could possibly read about my critiques. Thanks.