Scorsese Nails Shutter Island’s Big Twist Ending

Unfortunately, he drives the nail through the story’s soul 

I was really looking forward to Shutter Island.  Loved the book, liked the trailers, went in optimistic.  And I wasn’t entirely disappointed.   Disappointed enough to come here and bitch, though.  Told you yesterday that I would and I do like to keep a promise.

If you’ve seen or heard anything about the movie, you know that there’s a big twist ending.  I already knew the ending and it is indeed a nice, juicy twist.  The kind of twist M. Night Shyamalan dreams of being able to write (and keeps trying, again and again, like the Energizer Bunny on crack and with too much funding).  Martin Scorsese keeps his film version of Shutter Island true to the book, but somewhere along the way he manages to lose its soul.

A good twist ending leaves you with something – shock, sadness, fear, delight at the ingenuity of it all, whatever.  It should pack a punch and leave you wide eyed as you put all the pieces together and realize how the twist was there all along, you just weren’t looking in the right places.  But even the best twist in the world will fail if the actors and director don’t succeed in making us care about the story.

That’s where Shutter Island trips and falls.  It’s all there, just like it is in the Dennis Lehane novel.  But I don’t care.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Scorsese utterly fail to engage me on any sort of emotional level.  That ending should pack a huge whallop – it does in the book.  Any time you break out The Big Twist there will be naysayers that nitpick and decry the plausibility of it all, but that’s not what it’s about – I put my disbelief on the shelf when I paid my money and walked onto the theater.  It isn’t the facts of the ending that suck, it’s the execution.

I’m not going to ruin this ending for anyone, but I will say that by its very nature this film should engage the viewer as a human drama as well as a psychological thriller.  But Scorsese doesn’t play it that way, he seems more interested in the nuts and bolts than in imbuing the film with the necessary humanity to make us care when the end arrives.  DiCaprio is far too dry and wooden in his performance to make up for the frigid direction. 

It’s sad, really – there are a lot of good things about Shutter Island the movie (yeah, I’ll review it and tell you those later) but the emotional impotence of the entire film makes the rest pale and uninteresting.   Apparently others disagree, since the stupid thing is still topping the box office.  I would like to think that’s because there isn’t all that much new out there and that the trailers are really good.  Don’t be fooled – it’s all style and no dramatic substance.  The big twist feels like an technical exercise.  Read the book instead and rent the movie when it comes out on DVD.  Maybe Scorsese will explain how he sucked the soul out of the story in the commentary.

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