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February 28, 2010

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Scorsese lost in absurd, pulp schlock

MARTIN Scorsese clearly had a ball making "Shutter Island," which seems to hurl everything the director knows about film making 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 described moviemaking, does not necessarily mean a good time for movie goers, even with Scorsese's regular screen idol, Leonardo DiCaprio (pictured left), leading the superb cast.

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

It 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 the rich inner tumult of US Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) unfurls, a man agonized by the death of his wife and his World War II service among Allied troops.

You are 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.

Scorsese has succeeded with grand pulp before in "Cape Fear" and "The Departed." With "Shutter Island," his reach is operatic, but the result is like an overblown episode of "The X-Files" or "The Twilight Zone."

With so many talented people performing at the top of their game, "Shutter Island" should be more than this.


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