Monday, 13 June 2011

My Favourite Films (9/15) - Thriller

Favourite Thriller Film - Shutter Island (Scorsese, 2010)

Thrillers are all about tension, keeping the audience guessing and a dramatic, and preferably unexpected finale. According to those criteria I had to choose ‘Shutter Island’ as my favourite film from this genre.

I excluded films like ‘Heat’ or the ‘Bourne’ trilogy as they fell into the action and crime genres respectively, so it would have been perfectly fair to rename my thriller category as the ‘head-fuck’ genre.

Scorsese’s asylum set drama is one of the definite kings of this particular genre. The plot of the film involves Federal Marshall Daniels (Di Caprio) investigating the disappearance of a patient at a mental institute for the criminally insane. Unsurprisingly, given the genre description I gave above, that investigation is in absolutely no way straight forward, with suspicious staff and patients only serving to make the mystery even more confusing.

Di Caprio is in supreme form throughout in probably my favourite ever performance from him; I’ve got to admit for the majority of the last decade he was merely, and unfairly, that guy from ‘Titanic’ but his performances in ‘Revolutionary Road’, ‘Inception’ and ‘The Departed’ have elevated him to one of my favourite current lead actors. He manages to be an unstable but powerful emotional heart in a film full of twisted characters and misleading plot strands which could threaten to leave you confused and detached without his role.

Mark Ruffalo’s partner to Daniels and Ben Kingsley’s psychiatrist are similarly excellent, proving subtle and intriguing foils to Di Caprio’s Federal Marshall. It is those three performances that elevate this film into genre topping greatness; it’s absolutely crucial if as a director you’re going to make a film with such complex, inter-weaving plot strands and so few easy answers then you need to make sure the audience connect well with the central characters or there’s a risk they’ll just switch off and not be willing to try and figure out what’s actually going on.

The film is brilliantly shot, full of haunting imagery and ominous landscapes as events unfold on the storm battered island. Several sequences make for really uncomfortable watching; nightmarish visions of the holocaust and of acts of domestic violence that will stay with you long after the end credits roll.

The score uses Mahler’s “Quartet for Piano and Strings in A Minor” to great effect, forming a powerful theme throughout, with various takes on the piece forming the sound track to several of the crucial scenes. There are also a number of uses for ‘Inception’ style fog horns to create a foreboding atmosphere from the opening credits that never let’s up until long after the final credits.

‘Shutter Island’ is a film which definitely benefits from repeat viewings, as many of the best examples from this particular genre do, with the depth of the plot allowing each viewing to offer new details or perspectives on the events.

It is also possibly Scorsese’s best film, quite a claim considering his back catalogue; the film is an example of a great director at their absolute best and I’d advise anyone to watch it at least twice.

Today's song is off one of the best albums out there at the moment, Jamie XX remixing Gil Scott Heron's album "I'm New Here".

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