Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Video review: "Shutter Island"

"Shutter Island" is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, accompanied by a relentlessly over-the-top musical score. We know from the get-go that the movie is playing mind games with us, and we don't need to have read the novel by Dennis Lehane to figure out pretty early on what the end game will be.

It's never a good thing when an audience knows where a story is going, and waits around for the film to catch up. Director Martin Scorsese and his cast pile on the atmospherics, the 1950s clothes and cars, so at least the waiting room is pleasant to look at.

Leonardo DiCaprio, in his third outing with Scorsese, plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Ashcliff, a prison for the criminally insane on a forbidding island in Boston Harbor.

Teddy's got a new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), with whom he quickly forms a hard-boiled bond. But nothing on the island is what it seems. Like an endless ball of yarn, the more of the mystery Chuck and Teddy unspool, the more confusing things continue to get.

They suspect the doctors are performing heartless experiments on the mentally ill. The prim head doctor (Ben Kingsley), is less than forthcoming with personnel files, and the patients have clearly been coached in their answers.

The music is omnipresent in the film, to the point of becoming comedic. When Chuck and Teddy first arrive at the facility's steel-and-brick compound, the score reaches an incredible volume of surging minor chords. They say film scores should be felt but not heard; this one not only intrudes into the foreground, it wants to be the life of the party.

"Shutter Island" feels like an exercise in mood manipulation. The film doesn't draw its audience in, but treats them like something to be experimented upon.

Video extras are rather measly -- the DVD version comes with nada.

Even the Blu-ray boasts only two bonus features: "Beyond the Shutters," a standard making-of documentary, and "Into the Lighthouse," a discussion of 1950s-era psychiatric therapies.

Movie: 2 stars
Extras: 2 stars

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