'Shutter Island' is tiresome gloom
courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio star in Martin Scorsese's latest production, 'Shutter Island.' COOPER - 1

Associated Press

'Shutter Island'

Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity. Running time: 138 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Martin Scorsese clearly had a ball making "Shutter Island," which seemingly hurls everything the director knows about filmmaking up on screen in a blazing, masterful technical triumph.

The joy of a boy playing with the world's greatest electric train set, as Orson Welles memorably described moviemaking, does not necessarily mean a good time for movie-goers, even with Scorsese's regular screen idol, Leonardo DiCaprio, leading the superb cast.

"Shutter Island" is long and wearying — brilliantly constructed, obsessively detailed, yet dramatically a piece of pulp schlock that's been overdressed and overstuffed to disguise a ponderous and absurd story.

In that regard, "Shutter Island" is right in line with Dennis Lehane's novel, a 1950s tale of paranoia, delusion, grief and denial set at a New England asylum for the criminally insane, where two federal cops are searching for an escaped murderess.

Scorsese and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis stick closely, almost literally, to Lehane's story, whose jolts and surprises are clever but rather cheap and far-fetched.

It holds together well enough on the page as Lehane unfurls the rich inner tumult of U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, a man agonized by the death of his wife and his World War II service among the Allied troops that liberated the Dachau death camp. You're invested in this guy, so that when Lehane springs his grand twist, you may not buy it, but you at least can roll with it.

As gorgeously as Scorsese captures Teddy's nightmare world, the director lets the man's inherent gloom weigh so heavily that it overwhelms the story, making Lehane's big reveal seem all the more shabby and unsatisfying.

For his first film since 2006 Academy Awards champ "The Departed," Scorsese works a fourth time with DiCaprio, whose supreme gift for brooding makes him an obvious choice to play Teddy.

Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson play two different embodiments of the missing Rachel, whose true identity is at the heart of the story's climactic surprise.

As Teddy's dead wife in flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations, Michelle Williams delivers the film's most moving moments. Those scenes also are Scorsese at his finest, radiant flashes of tragic grandeur in a film that otherwise is mostly a study in ghoulishness.

In imagery and design, it's certainly a beautiful, even dazzling study as Scorsese conducts first-rate work from a team of past collaborators, including cinematographer Robert Richardson, production designer Dante Ferreri, costumer designer Sandy Powell and longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

Robbie Robertson, whose group The Band was the subject of Scorsese's concert film "The Last Waltz," serves as music supervisor, creating a score that's a suitably jarring pastiche based on tunes from a variety of 20th century composers.


'Ghost Writer'

Rated PG-13 for language, brief nudity/sexuality, some violence and a drug reference. Running time: 128 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

Roman Polanski delivers a faithful, fairly absorbing adaptation of Robert Harris' thriller "The Ghost.”

The movie pokes along at times, in contrast with the snappy pace of Harris' novel.

Yet Polanski cast his film well — particularly Pierce Brosnan as a Tony Blair-esque former British prime minister, a supporting player in the story but a larger-than-life figure who dominates the action every time he enters the picture.

Ewan McGregor stars as a ghost writer hired to polish up ex-PM Adam Lang's tedious memoirs, taking the job after his predecessor's mysterious death and just as accusations of war crimes surface against Lang.

Olivia Williams is terrific as Lang's ferociously intelligent and sardonic wife, while Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson and James Belushi highlight the rest of the cast.

McGregor is a bit of a blank throughout, a wispy presence continually outshone by co-stars. Polanski adheres closely to Harris' novel but adds some macabre touches — among them a dubious ending that elicits chuckles partly because of its wicked humor, partly because it's a rather silly and dismissive send-off to the film's protagonist.

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