REVIEW: “Shutter Island” (2010)

“Shutter Island” is a film that usually gets tossed aside when discussing the greater movies of filmmaker Martin Scorsese. But since first seeing it in the theater during its original 2010 release (three times actually), I’ve stood firmly by my assertion that it’s absolutely top-tier Scorsese. I loved everything about it then, and I’ve found that it still holds up to repeat viewings. The cast, the script, the costumes, the production design, and (of course) the direction are all top-notch.

Adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane, “Shutter Island” (at the time) marked the fourth collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio (they would re-team in 2013’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” and their latest, “Killers of the Flower Moon” is due out next year). Here Scorsese delves into the psychological thriller genre while also brilliantly injecting elements of horror and even classic noir. It all fits great with the cool period setting and the overall captivating premise.

Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

DiCaprio plays Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels, who is summoned to Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor. It’s a mental hospital for the criminally insane where a patient has recently gone missing. Teddy is accompanied by his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the disappearance, but they’re immediately met with a lack of cooperation. Teddy grows increasingly impatient, particularly with the facility’s head psychiatrist, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). To complicate matters, Teddy is being haunted by recurring dreams of his wife (Michelle Williams) who we learn died two years earlier.

Scorsese is meticulous and deliberate in unfolding the many layers of the story (written by Laeta Kalogridis), often focusing on misdirection more than a straightforward narrative. He sends us in several different directions but never gives us any firm footing until the end. And as usual for Scorsese, he never does anything without a purpose or reason. Whether it’s metaphorical, revelatory, or a simple homage, his scenes are filmed with specificity and intent. If you fail to soak in the details there’s a good chance you may miss much of what he’s going for.

In a movie like this, the less you say about the story the better. But as the mystery uncoils, Scorsese reveals as much through his camera as through the script. The riveting cinematography (from Quentin Tarantino regular Robert Richardson) helps make the island one of the most effective supporting characters. Peddocks Island in Boston Harbor was used for the haunting, panoramic shots of Shutter Island and was particularly effective in setting the tone in the chilling opening sequence. From there, the camera steadily works to immerse us deeper and deeper into the story’s dark and unsettling setting.

Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

As for the performances, DiCaprio delivers what is one of my favorite performances of his to date. He’s handed some challenging and emotionally heavy material, and he nails it. Ruffalo, Williams, and Kingsley along with Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earl Haley, and John Carroll Lynch make for a stellar supporting cast. We even get the late great Max von Sydow is small yet terrific role playing a creepy German doctor with a mysterious presence. Scorsese is known for surrounded himself with quality performers, and it’s certainly no different here.

“Shutter Island” was one of the best films of 2010, and it remains among my favorites from Martin Scorsese. It’s impossible to restrict it to any one genre, it maintains a wonderfully eerie tone, and the direction and visual energy is sublime. Scorsese takes us on an emotional ride that can be hard to watch especially as truths are slowly unearthed. The movie does require patience, but the payoff, both narratively and cinematically, makes every second of this extraordinary film worthwhile.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

REVIEW: “The Drop” (2014)

Tom Hardy has taken tough guy portrayals to new levels. Some actors naturally lean towards playing tough characters. It’s hard to see them as anything else. Hardy has that lean but he has managed to offer a number of cool variations. He has played a comic book villain, an MMA fighter, a moonshiner, and a Cold War Russian Agent just to name a few. In “The Drop” he gives us yet another bend to the tough guy character and just as before he does it exceptionally well.

“The Drop” is a Brooklyn crime drama based on a Dennis Lehane short story. Lehane also wrote the screenplay with Michaël R. Roskam directing. Hardy plays a inner city bartender named Bob Saginowski. He works at “Cousin Marv’s”, a bar ran by his appropriately named cousin (played by James Gandolfini in his final role). Marv recently handed his bar to Chechen gangsters who now use it as a drop for money they have coming in.

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At closing time two hoods rob the place at gunpoint stealing a load of the Chechen’s money. The gangsters hold Marv and Bob responsible leading them to desperately search for a way out of their predicament. Marv is bullish and old school in his approach to things while Bob is much quieter and a bit of an introvert. This effects how each go about handling what appears to be a dire situation.

Bob is the main character and we learn a lot about him through a dog (of all things). He finds the abused pup in a trashcan belonging to a neighbor named Nadia (Noomi Rapace). The two spark a reluctant relationship which is complicated by her estranged thuggish boyfriend Eric (well played by Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts). The intensity ratchets up as Bob’s bar troubles and his relationship with Nadia come dangerously close to colliding.

Lehane’s script simmers and never allows the story to blow up into an everyday crime thriller. Roskam’s direction keeps thing under control and allows the script and the actors room to work among the seeping tension. I kept expecting it to turn towards the obvious and conventional. It never does. It’s surprisingly calculated and strategic in how it sets up and delivers its story points.

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It also doesn’t hurt to have two superb lead performances. Hardy comes across as strikingly genuine and natural – a seamless and perfect fit for his character. Galdolfini’s work is a clear but sad reminder of his immense talents in front of the camera. His ability to absorb the audience in the complexities of his Marv character is a key to the film’s success.

It could be said that there is nothing particularly new or profound about “The Drop”. It’s hard to argue against that view. But at the same time it is a well-made film that may be small in cinematic stature but big in terms of smart and precise storytelling. Toss in a fine cast to help tell your story and the results are sure to be even more promising. Such is the case with “The Drop”.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4 Stars