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Say what, boss? (l-r) Ruffalo and DiCaprio in Shutter Island.

The Loony Bin Trip

By Shawn Stone

Shutter Island

Directed by Martin Scorsese

You might expect that a thril ler set in a 1950s mental asylum would make you think. Martin Scorsese’s tricky cinematic nightmare, based on a novel by Dennis Lahane (Mystic River), does not. What the film does very well, however, is make you feel—frightened, horrified, lost—just like its hero, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio). With his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), they’re sent to forbidding Shutter Island off the Massachusetts coast, where a patient at a maximum security mental asylum for the criminally insane has escaped.

It’s a creepy place: Civil War-era gothic buildings are massive and depressing; overbearing safety protocols govern every action; and there is one locked door and barbed-wire enclosure after another. Scorsese resolutely takes Teddy’s point of view; the canny veteran cop is alert to geography, movement and any detail that seems “wrong,” and we’re right there with him. He also seems to be acting a little bit odd. We learn that this is because Teddy has had a significant tragedy in his life, an event that, as his time on the island is extended, begins to, literally, haunt him.

Scorsese keeps Teddy, and us, on edge. The place is run by a couple of smooth, shifty medical characters played by Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow, another detail that ratchets up the tension. The story turns dark and complex, and a mood of desperation kicks in.

Scorsese creates a counterpoint to all the mounting gloom by making Shutter Island gorgeous to look at. Every colorful frame is packed with beauty, and ravishing detail. It’s so beautiful, in fact, that you may not notice the facts that are plainly right in front of you. Because the plot of Shutter Island is frankly ridiculous. It’s nuttier than Daffy Duck skipping across a pond, shouting “woo-woo.” Since Scorsese takes this absurdity seriously, however, it’s still an oddly moving film.

The actors are marvelous, especially Kingsley’s courtly doc, Ruffalo’s loyal cop, and Jackie Earle Haley as a very disturbed patient. DiCaprio, who again demonstrates that his relationship to acting is akin to a sick man passing a kidney stone, is sympathetic.

You may praise Shutter Island for its formal qualities or curse it for its silliness, but you can’t dismiss it. It’s Scorsese’s most moving work in years.


Talk About It

Cop Out

Directed by Kevin Smith

I love the ’80s. Who doesn’t? All those great buddy-cop films and that sublime blend of action and comedy—they just don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Not that they don’t try. With Cop Out, director Kevin Smith tries to pay “hommage” to the bygone era of Gibson and Glover, Nolte and Murphy. It’s a dicey situation: The genre never quite recovered from being Michael Bay-ified in the mid ’90s, and most latter-day attempts at resurrecting it have been satirical and/or self-aware—for instance, Shane Black’s excellent Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is as much a buddy-cop flick as it is a deconstruction thereof. So Smith’s goal was to make a modern 48 Hours without accidentally making Pineapple Express. (Which, I am aware, is not a cop movie, but it’s one of the better examples of a comedic actioner in recent memory.)

Working from someone else’s script for the first time (it’s written by first-time screenwriters Robb and Mark Cullen), Smith is given free reign to pilfer his apparently encyclopedic memory of ’80s cinema. And here’s how he decides to beat the system: Cop Out may be set in modern-day New York, but all the references—from the film lines nicked in the opening interrogation scene to the soundtrack full of Patti LaBelle tunes and bloopy synthesizer instrumentals (courtesy of Harold Beverly Hills Cop Faltermeyer himself!)—are from the Reagan era.

As is the plot: Straight man Jimmy (Bruce Willis) and wild-card Paul (Tracy Morgan) are a pair of street-beat cops. When they’re suspended without pay after a chase gone awry, Jimmy is left to consider selling his 1952 Andy Pafko baseball card to cover the cost of his daughter’s (Michelle Trachtenburg) impending wedding—something he’s adamant about, if only to show up his wife’s new, rich husband (a never-smarmier Jason Lee). Meanwhile, Paul is convinced his wife (Rashida Jones) is cheating on him, which is constantly distracting him from his work—leading to the theft of Jimmy’s prized Pafko. Soon, both they, as well as detectives Hunsaker and Mangold (Kevin Pollak and Adam Brody) are on the trail of enterprising drug dealer and baseball aficionado Poh Boy (Guillermo Diaz), thanks in part to the help of the very thief who stole the card in the first place (Seann William Scott, quite funny).

From the opening sequence, this is an efficiently shot and edited film. A long shot of Manhattan pans across the East River as the Beastie Boys shout “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”; the title splashes across the screen as we get an obligatory feet-first shot of the main characters; Morgan’s very first line of dialogue is pure exposition. The film maintains this fast clip even as it moves to more locations than in all of Smith’s films combined, and through scene after scene of two guys sitting in a car, talking.

But since this is primarily a film about two dudes talking—Smith’s oeuvre, basically—its success comes down to the dudes doing the talking, and Willis and Morgan have a surprisingly comfortable chemistry. Though laughing at Morgan sometimes feels like a weird kind of post-ironic schadenfreude, Willis works as a grounding force. There’s a palpable, natural respect between these guys that really makes the pairing click. As familiar as it all feels, Cop Out deftly avoids living up to its title.

—John Brodeur


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