Category Archives: thriller
starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams
directed by Martin Scorsese
screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis
based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Paramount Pictures (2010)
In the first moments of this movie, as Leonard DiCaprio’s character, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels, gets seasick on his way across the Boston harbor to Shutter Island, I begin to wonder if Martin Scorsese miscast the acclaimed actor in this role. Despite some stubble, DiCaprio still has that baby-face about him that makes it hard to see him as a grizzled marshall with a tortured past. He does well in the role it turns out, as the film progresses, but despite getting sucked into the atmosphere of the movie I never fully believed that the guy was Teddy Daniels.
If you’ve read the book by Dennis Lehane (which I reviewed here) there is very little by way of plot that needs clarifying. The film plays out pretty close to the bone of the novel. If you haven’t read the book though, and you’ve yet to see this movie and are anxious to, this is a rare occasion where I suggest you see the movie first. Why? Because there are things that you will see coming a mile away if you read the book, and a measure of suspense will be removed from your viewing experience. That being said, I–having read the novel earlier this year–enjoyed the movie despite knowing exactly what happens and made my fun in seeing how certain scenes would be translated to the screen.
The story starts out as an almost hard-boiled detective story. The psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane is situated on Shutter Island, offering not even the minutest of escapes for patients/prisoners. One woman, however, has gone missing–inexplicably disappeared from her quarters with no apparent or reasonable explanation as to how. Enter U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels and his new partner (Mark Ruffalo) who ferry across to investigate and hopefully find the escapee before the incoming hurricane destroys all hope of answers. As the mystery progresses and more questions arise, it becomes clear that Daniels is there for ulterior motives related to a traumatic event in his past. And there may be other forces at work to prevent him from solving anything on Shutter Island.
Scorsese does some interesting things with the camera work early on, which helps you feel like you’re in the room with the characters as things are being discussed. When things start entering the weird territory, that’s when things start to take on a more familiar look with playful camera tricks and juxtapositions. The costumes and set design are near flawless, making the movie seem at points to be absolutely saturated in the mid-20th century. DiCaprio’s Boston accent leaves much to be desired by my estimation, but I’m not from the area so maybe I just don’t know any better.
The cast is just about pitch perfect–outside of DiCaprio–and I found Michelle Williams to be a particular treat in the latter half of the film where we really get to know her character as Teddy Daniels’ dead wife. As for Ben Kingsley, well–it’s Sir Ben at his usual effortless self.
Like I said, see the movie if you haven’t. And if you haven’t read the book either, I suggest waiting until after watching the film unless you want your reading experience to be the one with the surprises. It’s your call. Just make sure you watch the movie and read the book.
Title: A History of Violence
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt
Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: John Olsen; based on the graphic novel by John Wagner & Vince Locke
Released: Alliance Atlantis (2005)
As a small town kind of guy, the setting of A History of Violence felt at once Rockwellian and familiar. The townsfolk were just so damned chipper and friendly, and to a degree felt a bit saccharine, I had trouble accepting them as real people. But I think there needed to be that kind of visual contrast, since the two homicidal maniacs that descend upon the town in the first act were wildly malevolent.
More than the introduction of two gun-toting, thieving killers to such a humble setting, however, is the intervening actions of diner owner, Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), that is really where the heart of the movie is first exposed. The mild-mannered pillar of the community, for a few frenzied seconds, responds to the threat of violence with an equally vicious display and kills the two gunmen. And as his actions become the new buzz with local media, a new dark specter–Ed Harris playing Philly gangster, Carl Fogarty–arrives to confront Tom Stall.
It’s an engaging premise for a film that amplifies what already has the potential to be a good revenge-style flick: Is Tom Stall really the Philly gangster Joey Cusack, as Carl Fogarty asserts, and living a life of exile? Or is it that Carl has tragically identified an innocent husband and father as an opposing gangster who tried to tear out his eye with barbed-wire?
On top of that, there is the exploration of Tom’s son, Jack (Ashton Holmes), as he reconciles his own passivity and encounters with bullies against the celebrated actions of his father against the two criminals at the diner. The humiliation he endures prior to the incident only intensifies when his father becomes a local hero.
Then there is Tom’s wife, Edie (Maria Bello), who wrestles with her own doubts about Tom’s identity as Fogarty and his henchmen relentlessly antagonize and intimidate the entire family. It’s a pretty powerful bit of acting from her that escapes the threat of winding up that fretful helpless wife, as she shows herself to be equally assertive and confrontational at certain points in the film.
The title of the movie alone should let any audience know that A History of Violence is a not-so-subtle examination of western culture’s preoccupation and celebration of violence. The movie walks a line between reality and fable as the story progresses, and the ending shows how scarred a family can be when an outside force imposes itself so suddenly and ferociously.
While I really liked the movie, both on an intellectual level as well as a prurient one, I was surprised at how there was no regard given to the graphic novel which inspired it. Yes, it is acknowledged in the opening credits and the back of the DVD, but in all of the DVD extras no one made any mention of the source material. I heard plenty of praise for the screenwriter who adapted it, Josh Olson–even showing in constantly kissing the feet of David Cronenberg on stage and at Cannes, but no celebration of the men who created the tale. If not for minuscule recognition afforded to John Wagner and Vince Locke, I would have had no idea this movie was either an adaptation or the work of people other than Cronenberg and Olson. A shame, really, as I would like to read the graphic novel to see just how far the movie deviates and becomes its own creature compared to the book.
Nit-picking over writing credits aside, this is a fantastic film. It’s not a feel-good film with promise of a happy ending, but it is a great piece of film making and storytelling that people ought to see for themselves.