‘Shutter Island’ leaves loose ends, but that’s the point, right?

Posted Feb. 25, 2010, at 7:24 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

In theaters

SHUTTER ISLAND, directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Laeta Kalogridis, 138 minutes, rated R.

The new Martin Scorsese film, “Shutter Island,” is designed to be a head trip. It’s a movie driven almost completely by a plot that, should it be revealed here, would ruin the experience of seeing the film for the first time.

At best, the characters are thin — intentionally so. They are stereotypes. Scorsese puts his audience into their lives and asks us to fish out clues from the plot that will help to flesh out the people we see onscreen. Who are they, really? One must look to the plot, dissect it, and then take a stab at who they could be.

So, good luck with that.

The movie is all about the art of perception — since there are no correct answers to what’s unfolding here, each viewer likely will have a different experience when the movie comes to its incomplete conclusion, which offers a hive of other questions that go unanswered. For some people, this idea of incompletion will satisfy, as there are few concrete answers in life, which leans into at least part of Scorsese’s larger point. For those who like their movies wrapped in a tight bow, you’re not going to get it here.

This is a film that needs to be walked around, so we’ll walk around it without getting too close. Leonardo DiCaprio, in a difficult performance handled with focus and intensity, is Teddy Daniels, a Boston Harbor-based marshal who is called with his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), to Shutter Island, which is off the coast of Massachusetts and houses the criminally insane. There, a woman by the name of Rachel Salando (Emily Mortimer) has gone missing. It’s Teddy and Chuck’s job to investigate.

As they come to know one another, we learn almost nothing about Chuck but a bit about Teddy. His wife (Michelle Williams) died in a fire with their daughter, and while that was two years prior, Teddy still looks pale and shaky. Are memories of them the reason? Could be, but Scorsese isn’t lingering to find out. The movies pushes forward and soon we’re on the island itself, where waves crash against rocks and the atmosphere is tense, to say the least.

There, each man is asked to hand over their guns before entering the asylum, which is a complex of prisonlike buildings. Presumably, losing their guns is for their own safety, as prisoners are everywhere on the grounds — gardening with massive sheers. When Teddy and Chuck resist, they’re told they’re not getting inside with-out doing so. And so, they reluctantly do so. Who wants to bet whether that was a good idea?

Who also wants to bet that Scorsese, working from Laeta Kalogridis’ script, itself based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, is toying with B-movie conventions? The film is set in 1954, and it features all of the trappings of the movies of the time, only amplified by a master director who has the skills to at once employ them, toy with them and elevate them. Hitchcock’s presence, in particular, is felt everywhere in this movie — he could have directed key scenes, particularly those that involve Teddy clinging to the rocks surrounding the facility.

Other directors and movies strike influential bells — just who and which, we’ll leave for you to decide — while Scorsese, working his own angles, introduces us to the asylum’s creepy director, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), and another fright in Max von Sydow, who plays a German doctor armed with horrendous intent. With his pale skin and white puff of hair, the man is an old Q-tip replete with round glasses, a whiff of Nazism about him and a mean syringe at the ready. Enough said about him.

And also about the movie. “Shutter Island” will disappoint plenty and delight plenty. It’s divisive. At the end, when you try to draw together the several loose ends, you should know that some won’t come together. The plot frays and it breaks. But here’s the question: Is this due to errors in the writing and direction, or is it be-cause when a movie is about a collapse into madness (or the ramifications of a lingering psychological illness — you decide), a fractured plot might just be the perfect metaphor to underscore that madness, thus reversing the film back on itself and leaving more questions than answers.

Given the quality of the director, I’m giving Scorsese the benefit of the doubt.

Grade: B

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On DVD and Blu-ray disc

2012, directed by Roland Emmerich, written by Emmerich and Harold Kloser, 158 minutes, rated PG-13.

Roland Emmerich’s “2012” is now out on DVD and Blu-ray disc, so right away, audiences know what to do. Given Emmerich’s penchant for destruction, it’s time to remember what it means to duck and cover and to slap bandages on the world’s landmarks. Or at least what’s left of them.

“2012” once again finds the director wandering around the world, casually smashing it to bits with joyous ease and all while delivering the destruction with some of the worst, most risible and predictable writing of the year.

Any year. Pick a year. The year doesn’t matter.

About the movie. Well, it’s just a work of art and to some degree, I’m serious. Special effects have come a long way, baby, and this movie is a showcase for the cheesy best of the best. There is no denying the sheer pleasure that goes into watching disaster movies when the disasters are played up with the sort of sheen presented here. This movie is a spit-and-shine miracle of special effects, so much so that occasionally, you do slip out of the clutch of cliches Emmerich hurls at you and marvel at how talented computers have become.

If only it were so easy for some writers. Talk about devastation — they can take out the world (and ruin a good time) with the swipe of a pen. That is sometimes the case here, with the film’s slim shred of a plot going down like this: The year is 2012. John Cusack is Jackson Curtis, a divorced dad of two trying to be civil to his ex-wife, Kate (Amanda Peet), when the Earth’s crust starts to shift.

Though the scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) predicted this day would come and warned the President of the United States (Danny Glover) as well as his staff, few others know, with the exception of Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a pot-smoking hippie living high up in Yellowstone, where he has a radio show that long has declared the end of the world.

When the end comes, it hits hard (that’s the fun part), but who wants to bet that Jackson and Kate will be thrown together, in spite of the fact that Kate is remarried to another man (Tom McCarthy? Will they suck up their differences in an effort to survive? Will they squeak out creaky old dialogue that could crumble Rio? And what about their daughter, who is 7 and must wear pull-ups because, for sheer character development alone, we learn that she has bladder issues? Will those be solved by the end of the movie? Will the world live on?

What do you think?

Grade: C-

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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