Something In The Air
A semi-autobiographical drama from director Olivier Assayas set in 1970s Paris
DiCaprio arrives on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of an inmate from the island's isolated asylum for the criminally insane. The case doesn't add up - is there a conspiracy afoot?
No stylistic trick or visual flourish is left unused in Martin Scorsese's stab at the world of gothic noir, a world he less stabs at than leaps on top of, blade in hand, and proceeds to perforate to death.
As Leonardo DiCaprio's policeman investigates the disappearance of an inmate from an isolated island-bound 1950s asylum, we're subjected to lurid dream sequences, clanging sound effects, lashing rain, messed up inmates with soulful eyes, more rain, a creepy senior psychiatrist, some possible Nazi war criminals, an escaped murderer, diabolical medical experiments, and even more rain, until you're not quite sure whether it's you or the filmmakers who have lost it. Is DiCaprio aboard a movie or a fairground ghost train? He's not sure, we're not sure, but Scorsese, a gleeful conductor, is too busy readying the next trapdoor surprise - viewer, behold, a plague of rats! - to let us in on what he thinks he's up to.
It's easy to mock, but I'm undecided on whether Shutter Island's ludicrousness is wholly a bad thing. The film clearly takes itself far too seriously given all the rat plagues and dream sequences and what have you, but it's rarely less than watchable, in the same way that a ghost train is fun for the duration and may have moments where its cheap tricks are more effective than you would afterwards like to admit. It's undeniably visually arresting, with a dark palette scattershot with queasy reds and greens, and some claustrophobic camerawork evoking the trapped sensations of the island-bound policeman.
If Shutter Island were a website it would be a Geocities fanpage dedicated to the possibility that JFK is alive and well and living in a secret government lab made of bricks fashioned from a new strain of super strong LSD by The Man, and it would be festooned with flashing icons, excitable punctuation, plenty of all-caps typing and hysterical auto-play music with no switch-off option.
While some might argue that suddenly dipping into gothic noir is a strange leftfield choice for a director at Scorsese's time of life, it's much more interesting than continuing to retread old themes and genres that he has already mastered. That he hasn't got it quite right is hardly the point - I'd rather have seen this flawed but fascinating attempt to journey out of his comfort zone than yet another piece about male rivals getting scrappy with one another.
Unsuccessful but fascinating and often entertaining attempt from Martin Scorsese to wrangle with baroque pulp fiction - by turns compelling, hysterical and silly.
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