During a 10th anniversary rewatch of Shutter Island, it dawned on me that I like that film far and above Martin Scorsese’s other 21st Century fare. But why? Many of his films, most obviously his Mob dramas (The Irishman, Goodfellas) and biographies of larger-than-real-life people (The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort, The Aviator’s Howard Hughes), settle you in for lengthy journeys.
But Shutter Island’s paranoid subjectivity throws you into the shit along with Leo DiCaprio’s Teddy from minute one, as his investigation into a mysterious disappearance at an asylum for the criminally insane throws up more questions than answers at every turn.
In a fitting homage to the film’s broad-stroked ’50s roots, the soundscape is intense bordering on oppressive. With frequent abrupt stops and starts, it tosses you about as violently as the snappy camerawork and sublime editing that capture our increasingly unreliable protagonist’s spiralling search for the truth. There’s a vivacity to Shutter Island – and most of Scorsese’s thrillers – that transcends his other fare. Much more so than in his other recent work, there’s a force here – an emotional, jittery immediacy, where his bio-dramas are (no doubt intentionally) more distant.
It’s tightly plotted where his other crime dramas and thrillers are expansive (Gangs of New York) or more leisurely paced (Wolf, Irishman). And it’s more stylistically striking and original than The Departed.
Scorsese’s now-classic 1991 remake of Cape Fear is perhaps its closest cousin, a lean, mean psychological thriller with disturbingly good lead performances and a incisive commentary on the American psyche.
Sure, there are holes in Shutter Island’s plot, but every time I watch it, I’m having too much fun to care. I freely concede that the final act may have a twist too many for some viewers. Yet I’m sure there are more people out there who enjoy Scorsese’s signature simmering suspense and conscience-conflicted characters best when he cuts loose within a story that could easily be rote material in lesser hands – and takes you for a prestige thrill ride.
In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that of all the genres he’s tackled, the psychological thriller is where Marty truly sets himself apart from the filmmaker herd. Or is it just me?
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