Scorsese is stranded on Shutter Island while The Crazies go berserk
Martin Scorsese’s latest film, Shutter Island, is too much of a good thing, and too much of a good thing is not a good thing at all.
An atmospheric, beautifully made tribute to by Mark Burger the enduring ‘40s chillers contributing columnist of producer Val Lewton (an acknowledged Scorsese inspiration whose credits included Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie and The Body Snatcher) and based on a Dennis Lehane novel, Shutter Island is not without its interesting points — Scorsese is incapable of making an uninteresting film — but the long, drawn-out approach to the story begins to work against it, muting its impact.
From the opening frames of the film, in which Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at the title locale, it’s immediately apparent that nothing is quite what it seems. The fun, ostensibly, is in trying to piece together what’s wrong. Unfortunately, Scorsese takes another two hours and 20 minutes to assemble the puzzle, by which time much of the anticipation and potential satisfaction have been exhausted.
Daniels and Aule are federal marshals assigned to investigate the disappearance of a female patient on Shutter Island, an asylum for only the most dangerous of patients. During their investigation, in which they question both patients and staff (Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow being the top docs on Shutter Island), Teddy’s sense of reality begins to fragment, fueled by hallucinatory memories of past traumas that indicate he might be better off in one of the beds than prowling the hallways looking for additional clues.
For a time, Shutter Island is an enjoy- able bit of cinematic sleight of hand, with DiCaprio (united with Scorsese for the fourth time) a nervy, neurotic protagonist and the other actors having sly fun playing red herrings, at least until the film begins taking itself way too seriously.
Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Elias Koteas are among the other notable names in the cast, although most have precious little to do — which, given the lengthy running time, seems almost a waste of their participation.
This is one of those classic cases where less would have been more.
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The Crazies is director Breck Eisner’s remake of George A. Romero’s low-budget 1973 shocker about a small town suddenly gripped by psychotic hysteria after the water supply is tainted by chemicals developed by the US military.
The new version, for which Romero receives a token executive-producer credit, is bigger (if not necessarily better) in its retelling. The setting is now a bucolic Iowa burg where everybody knows everybody and everybody pretty much likes everybody else, too. In short, exactly the sort of small-town Americana ripe for an apocalypse.
This transpires, in due time, as residents begin behaving strangely and then murderously, killing family and friends with brutal abandon. The local sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) and the local doctor (Radha Mitchell) — husband and wife, and expectant parents — suddenly find themselves in jeopardy, particularly when the military moves in to quarantine the town and, predictably, makes the situation worse.
The unaffected townspeople not only have their crazed neighbors to contend with, but soldiers who shoot (or incinerate) first and never bother to ask questions, before or after.
The first half of The Crazies builds a nice head of steam and a palpable sense of tension, as the town comes violently unglued. And although Olyphant’s lawman figures out the cause of the problem with amazing alacrity — all the better to move things along — he and Joe Armstrong (as his increasingly agitated deputy) manage to imbue their stock characters with some dimension and gravitas, although this is hardly a film strong on characterization.
The second half of the film, however, falls into a repetition of close calls and narrow escapes. By this time, it’s become obvious that things are not going to end well for anyone concerned. The film is well-made (and clearly cost millions more than its drive-in-era predecessor) and sometimes engrossing, but only intermittently does it tap into its paranoid potential. It’s a nice try, at least, and as remakes go it’s reasonably respectful.
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