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Andrew Cooper/Paramount Pictures

Cheap tricks

Movies | Shutter Island's script does not measure up to its director

Issue: "Fighting poverty," March 13, 2010

It's understandable that when Martin Scorsese-the director who previously cast him in such successful ventures as Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and The Departed-comes calling, Leonardo DiCaprio is going to jump at the chance to star in another of his films. What isn't so understandable is what interested someone of Scorsese's caliber in such a run-of-the-mill, predictable horror script as Shutter Island (rated R for violence, language, and non-sexual nudity) in the first place.

As soon as most viewers see U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) step onto the gothic grounds of the Shutter Island mental institution to investigate the disappearance of a violent inmate (Emily Mortimer), they will begin to suspect where the movie will wind up in the last 10 minutes. And they will be right. The wrenching performances from DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley, the nightmarish visuals, and the sweeping gothic score aren't enough to throw us off the track of the big twist we know is coming.

And because the twist, when it finally does come, is such an old, cheap trick, it makes Scorsese's attempts to fill the in-between time with material he evidently thinks will lend his film some greater import feel bombastic and gross. Horrifying images of the Holocaust and matricide don't add up to a great reflection on the nature of humanity and its capacity for violence; they add up to a distraction.

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Next time, the great Scorsese might want to take a page from one of his great colleagues, Steven Spielberg. If all he wanted to make was an effective scary movie, he should have accepted the limitations of his story and enjoyed himself (Indiana Jones can't also be Schindler's List). But if he wanted to make great art, he needed to start with much better source material.

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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