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February 13, 2010


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Great review, Glenn. Thanks. Gets me excited about something that I was only kinda sorta a little excited about beforehand.


I second Craig's comment. When I first heard the basic plot synopsis, I was feeling pretty lukewarm (insane asylums and such just don't do much for me, I reckon) but my interest was raised a bit when I read on Alex Ross's blog the other week the list of contemporary classical dudes on the soundtrack. This review, however, raises the stakes considerably. I just the website for the local "luxury" (ho ho!) cineplex in town and "Shutter Island" will indeed be opening here in Podunkville, Wisconsin on Friday. The movie gods can, on rare occasion, show a smidgen of mercy.


So, is there an overt reference to The Shining? Or does it just feel similar due to a similar soundtrack?

Glenn Kenny

@ endless: Yeah, you'll see. There's more than one, really. But it's more that the whole mood of the picture owes, knowingly, to Kubrick's.


Glenn, you notice any influence from Wells' adaptation of The Trial? I thought I remembered Marty citing this when he was working on the film, along with Shock Corridor, Tourneur, Lewton, etc.


"GANGS OF NEW YORK, of course, was a passion project that was more or less hijacked by its patron, the would-be latter-day Samuel Bronston (or is it Sam Spiegel?) Harvey Weinstein."

Perhaps he's simply Samuel L. Bronkowitz.

Anyway, looking forward to this...


A must watch movie. I love leonanrdo specially in catch me if you can!

The Chevalier



Surely this is not Scorsese's first horror picture - what about his Cape Fear remake that got more guignol as it went on?


Since I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of Scorsese's last three DiCaprio collaborations (especially in regards to their increasingly "impersonal" nature), my excitement for this one just ratcheted up a few notches.
Can't wait for the new Polanski too.

Aaron Aradillas

I've always held that The Aviator was one of Scorsese's most personal films. Scorsese uses the early years of Howard Hughes' life to tell the story of his '70s heyday. Scorsese identifies with Hughes when he reasonably asks for 2 extra cameras in order to film an important sequence. When Hughes retreats to his screening room, you are reminded of those passages from Easy Riders, Raging Bulls of Scorsese and Robertson staying up at all hours watching movies and doing God knows what else. Hughes' triumph at the senate committee and the first flight of the Sproose Goose is equal to Scorsese's getting Raging Bull to the screen.

Hell, even Shine A Light is a personal film for Scorsese.


Thank you Aaron. One should also add that Marty was an often-sick, delicate child and could probably empathize with how Hughes felt with regard to being around other people.

I don't think Marty is capable of making an impersonal film. Even something like The Departed has elements about loyalty, class, and family that I'm sure Marty felt strongly about.


I'm sure Marty has felt strongly about everything he's ever done. But there's a difference between spending decades trying to bring a passion project to the screen (Gangs of New York) and accepting an assignment and then trying to find personal angles in it (Aviator/Departed).


Well so what? You don't have to originate a project for it to (a) be good or (b) have some passion/artistic statement behind it. Or we would discount most of the old studio directors.

I also wouldn't call anything Marty has done an "assignment" (at least nothing since Boxcar Bertha). Sometimes he finds material himself, sometimes things are brought to him by friends. He certainly has enough options that he doesn't have to make films out of desperation or obligation.

Not every film is going to be some long-gestating labor of love. And besides, supposedly he's going to do Silence next, a project he's had his heart set on for a while.


I never said that a director had to originate a project for it to be good or that Marty has ever made anything out of obligation. I happen to admire both The Aviator and, to a lesser extent, The Departed as well-crafted exercises in Hollywood studio filmmaking.

Here, let me rephrase my original post in a way that should be less controversial:

Since I agree with Glenn that Gangs of New York is Scorsese's most personal film of the past decade (and also, in my opinion, the best), I'm even more excited to see Shutter Island after reading his review than I was before.


climbs to a crescendo that aims to reach that perfect note of empathetic despair

This was my exact experience of the Lehane novel, but there are plenty of wags that disagree. This is very encouraging, Glenn.

Eric Lowe

I wish that I hadn't already read Lehane's novel. It will be interesting to see how Scorcese tells the story visually. I'm looking forward to seeing this one.


That's fair Michael, and I actually agree with you on that clarification, but you still used the word "assignment" with regard to his last two films, which I think implies a significant lack of control or choice. I'm sure you don't consider him some kind of whore but it's not like Coppola doing The Rainmaker or something (which I also thought was a decent film).

Aaron Aradillas

The way I see it Scorsese is setting the bar for the rest of the year. It reminds me of when Fincher's Zodiac came out in early '07. In fact, Fincher's The Social Network and the Coens' True Grit are the only major upcoming releases that I know of.

Then again, Eastwood could decide to prep, shoot, edit, and release a movie within the last 6 weeks of the year.

The Chevalier

I often prefer it when Scorsese works from material developed by other people -- it tends to force a certain focus and restraint on him in the form of a plot. Storytelling has never been one of his strong points. Generally speaking, with the exception of Goodfellas, most of his passion projects (Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence, Casino, Kundun, etc.) are pretty bad; bad enough that if the name "Scorsese" wasn't associated with them as part of his filmography, they'd most likely have been greeted with far greater critique.

Aaron Aradillas

Actually, Scorsese's name hurt the critical and audience response to Casino. Critics thought he was doing a once-over on GoodFellas, while audiences weren't ready for the way the final hour is one long, slow decline into darkness. The final passages have neither the operatic reach of the finale of The Godfather, or the cocaine rush of GoodFellas. It just kinda ends badly for everyone. There's heartbreaking sadness in DeNiro's last line of narration.

Scorsese's only true work-for-hire is The Color of Money. What's interesting is how even that film can be read as personal. Cruise's Vincent is a stand-in for the youthful, flamboyant Scorsese. His joy of playing pool (especially in the "Werewolves of London" sequence) is equal to Scorsese's gliding-camera, rock & roll filmmaking. Newman's Fast Eddie's corruption of Vincent is equal to Scorsese's attempts to play the Hollywood game (New York, New York, King of Comedy, After Hourst). Newman's last line of dialogue could also be Scorsese coming out the other side wiser and ready to play the game on his own terms. His next two releases would be The Last Temptation of Christ and GoodFellas.

Tom Russell

I'm going to have to disagree rather strongly with the Chevalier-- KUNDUN, AGE OF INNOCENCE, and CASINO (GANGS to a lesser degree) are Scorsese's best films *because* he fully indulges his considerable cinematic gifts, narrative momentum/storytelling be damned. He's an expressive, virtuosic filmmaker, a tradition that I think is inherently and deliciously digressive.

When Scorsese dubbed Wes Anderson the new Scorsese or the Scorsese of the nineties or whatever-it-was, it was actually quite apt, not because they have a whole lot in common w/r/t themes or plots, but because both are digressive, expressive, intensely cine-literate artists.

Tom Russell

To clarify further what I just said, I didn't mean to say that someone can't not like those films-- what makes art and film interesting is that there are always going to be differences of opinion. What I'm saying rather is that the very qualities that might lead one person to call those films "pretty bad" are the qualities that I think make them masterpieces (sometimes flawed masterpieces, as in the case of GANGS), and the qualities that attract me to Scorsese's work in the first place.

The Chevalier

Those movies aren't that good, and Gangs isn't a "flawed masterpiece" -- it's a botch as messed up from head to toe as Heaven's Gate or Southland Tales; a bellyflop.

Those movies you listed were the '90s duds that he made post-Goodfellas after the critics anointed him the greatest working American director, and he then felt the need to make "great" movies, even though the movies he'd made to get that title weren't classically "great" movies.

I think Scorsese adoration is no different than Eastwood adoration. Or, for instance, when Eyes Wide Shut was released there were a whole bunch of older male critics who immediately gave it glowing reviews, even though you could tell they had no idea what was going on -- just to line up behind the master.

If you want to be critically honest, then be honest. I only really think Scorsese's made a handful of really good movies -- the rest are filled with greatness, but the parts are always more interesting than the wholes. I've been pretty pleased with his last few films for the simple reason that they're more controlled, more precise.


Very much in your corner Tom.

The other issue I have with Chevalier's remarks is the implication that the cinema is at its best when it is plot-driven, which just a ridiculous generalization to make. By the same standards, one could make the same criticism about Hitchcock and a passion project (however unintentional) like Vertigo. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. For every John Ford there are many cinematic masters to name for whom storytelling has never been a strong point, or a priority.


"If you want to be critically honest, then be honest."

Do you really think people who say they like those films are being dishonest?

The Chevalier

I don't think plot is inherently important. That wasn't my point at all. I just think that Scorsese's strength has never been in crafting original narratives. So, considering storytelling is a weak aspect of his work, I think that when he's working with a plot it tends to force him to focus better.

Tom Russell

Of course, the three ninety films you think are "pretty bad" were all based on other plots, to which he was pretty faithful-- two from life and one from a novel.

The Chevalier

"Do you really think people who say they like those films are being dishonest?"

"Rose-tinted" is a more polite way of putting it. "Deluded" is a little nastier.

I think we all tend to gloss over a filmmaker's work if we like them. I almost never read completely honest evaluations of Scorsese's work by his admirers. Even when he makes a movie that misses, then that becomes a 3 1/2 star movie instead of 4.

Aaron Aradillas

Well, digressions are fun, but story is always necessary.

And I've never considered Scorsese a show-off filmmaker. The making-the-sauce bit from GoodFellas is crucial to the overall impact of the day-in-the-life sequence. The fact that Henry Hill puts as much importance to making dinner as he does doing a drug deal shows that he is incapable of seeing the big picture. The same goes for the through-the-money-cage sequence in Casino. The sequence tells us that Vegas will always put money above everything else, especially the squablings of a doomed love triangle.

As for The Chevalier, Pauline Kael is alive and well and living in Miami.

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