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Saturday, February 27, 2010

CRIMINAL MINDS: Reviews of Shutter Island and the Red Riding Trilogy

Well, I guess I just have to say it and shame the devil. As much as I admire Martin Scorsese and consider him to be one of the greatest American filmmakers today, Shutter Island did not remotely work for me. To explain why, though, it will be necessary for me to reveal the much of the plot, so be forewarned. The story actually fell apart for me in the opening scene in which Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), a federal marshal, is on a ferry being taken to Shutter Island, a prison for mentally ill criminals, the worst of the worst. Just before the ferry docks, he meets Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), his new partner. Just before the ferry docks. Not on dry land in an office to review the case before leaving for the island. Not even as they get on board the ferry. But as the ferry is about to dock. This is such a poor set up, so badly written, that I could come up with only one explanation for the clunkiness—Teddy is not a federal marshal, but actually an inmate of the island. Once I realized that, it was just a matter of waiting around, and waiting around, and waiting around…and waiting around until the full reason for the deception was revealed. When it was revealed, and again I must be honest and shame the devil, I found the reason so preposterous (it was an elaborate ruse to try to cure Teddy of his delusions) that it was impossible for me to take any of it seriously. To paraphrase a friend of mine (who did like the movie), either the doctors on the island had way too much time on their hands, or they are the worst psychiatrists in the history of the world. The story also didn’t make sense on another level. Teddy is called the most dangerous inmate on the island. In the end, when the cure doesn’t take (big surprise there), he is to be lobotomized. But if Teddy is the most dangerous inmate on the island, there is no way you will ever make me believe the doctors there would give him free reign (they might be able to cover up Teddy killing another inmate, but if he kills anyone else—a doctor, nurse, staff member—there goes the whole shebang). If he’s not the most dangerous man on the island, then he doesn’t need to be lobotomized. Scorsese does what he can to make the holes in the story irrelevant (script by Laeta Kalogridis). But I think he overplays his hand here. I strongly suspect it would have worked better with a lower key approach ala a Val Lewton movie. Then again, with a story line as preposterous as the one here, maybe Scorsese made the right decision. But the real question perhaps is why does Scorsese feels he needs to make movies like this anymore? Is this really the sort of film that interests him? He’s won his Oscar. Let him get back to the kind of personal films he used to make.

The Red Riding Trilogy is three movies, Red Riding 1974, Red Riding 1980 and Red Riding 1983. They are inspired by true events, but not the events that the previews suggest are the source. For a number of years leading up to 1980, prostitutes were being murdered by a serial killer called the Yorkshire Ripper. But only Red Riding 1980 deals in any way with the Ripper and only then in a tangential way. The real basis of the Red Riding series is the disappearance of three little girls leading up to 1974. It ended when one of the girls was found raped and left for dead; a mentally slow man was set up for the murder; and there was a shoot out at a local club that killed a local businessman who was planning to build a shopping mall in the area. Thus the abduction of the little girls ended. 1974 deals with a reporter who discovers that the real child abductor is the businessman; but the reporter is manipulated by the incredibly corrupt local police (who for some reason the businessman has brought in on the building of the mall) to kill the businessman at the club (not entirely believable; it’s one of those things that looks great on screen, but when one starts going over it afterwards it doesn’t quite gel; all I could think is how much of a chance the police were taking; what if the reporter had done the more realistic and believable action of going to the London newspapers or getting a lawyer and filing suit). 1980 does deal with the Yorkshire Ripper, but only to the extent that one of his victims doesn’t fit with the others (like that Sesame Street ditty). An out of town detective is hired to look into it and into police corruption, but only ends up getting murdered by the police in a cover up of the earlier crimes. 1983 begins with the disappearance of a little girl and the public wondering if the original abductor has returned. One of those lame lawyers who rises to the occasion is the lead here and he discovers the real truth—I suppose; I was never quite sure how it all played out and some of the details seem a bit fuzzy. Though all three movies were written by the same person (Tony Grisoni), each was directed by someone different. There is something about the grimy, depressing film noir atmosphere of the whole thing that sticks with one and makes one want to watch the whole thing. You do get caught up in it just enough to want to see that pay off, hoping that even though the story’s not making a whit of sense, it will when the third film is over. But that pay off never arrived for me. I talked about the film for about thirty minutes with a fellow theater patron who also saw all three films. We could reconstruct the plot more or less, but not in a way that we could make hide or hair of it; we spent most of our time just listing the plot twist and turns that could not be explained or weren’t believable. It’s one of those films in which the corruption is so widespread the courts and newspapers are in on it just as much as the police are. And not just the local police. The central character in the second film, a police detective, has his house arsoned in another district and no one seems to look into it. The acting is fine, filled with the top tier of the British B level thespians (the A levels are all off doing the Harry Potter films). It’s a frustrating set of movies, mainly because one so wants it to be better than they are.

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