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Shutter Island, the Film, Is Shuddery Good


No Spoilers

You probably recognize American Film Noir when you see it. Shot in black-and-white with stark lighting and dramatic shadowing, the films explore morality in storylines where no character is completely good or evil. The disillusioned and usually fatalistic male protagonist wears suits and is virtually always clean-shaven (or sporting day-old stubble, at most). Though he’s had some dubious dealings in the past that make him morally ambiguous, he is almost always portrayed as the victim of a femme fatale, a woman of highly questionable moral virtue.

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in 1947 Noir Classic, Out of the Past ©

Beautiful and duplicitous, the femme fatale ensnares the unwary male protagonist, who is so drawn to her that he will do anything — even commit murder — in order to possess her love. Sexual passion goes along with her love, of course, but the doomed male protagonists of Noir want the femme fatale’s love even more than they want her sexual fidelity.

Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in Hitchcock’s Rebecca ©

Whether the male protagonist is a widower attempting to find happiness in his new marriage (Rebecca), a private investigator dealing with unscrupulous adventurers (The Maltese Falcon), or a drifter who gets involved in a murder conspiracy (The Postman Always Rings Twice), the male protagonist of Noir is world-weary, gritty, and psychologically complex.

Neo-Noir pays homage to Noir classics, using “updated themes, content, style, visual elements, or media that were absent in film noir of the 1940s and 1950s.” Shutter Island, a 2010 neo-Noir film by Martin Scorsese, based on the 2003 bestseller by Dennis Lehane, is one of the more fascinatingly complex neo-noir films.

Mark Ruffalo (L) and Leonard DiCaprio (R) in Shutter Island ©

Though lacking the characteristic noir Voice-Over which limits the story to the male protagonist’s perspective, Shutter Island nevertheless keeps the audience focus firmly restricted to the story of US Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio). On assignment in 1954 with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Teddy is investigating the disappearance of a female inmate of Shutter Island: a psychiatric facility isolated in Boston Harbor and housing the most dangerous of the criminally insane.

Marshals Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo, L) and Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio, R) heading for Shutter Island ©

On Shutter Island, psychiatrists and nurses, led by the facility’s Director, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), are ostensibly using revolutionary psychotropic drugs and intensive psychotherapy — along with “empathy” — to treat the dangerous inmates.

Director of Shutter Island, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) ©

All of the doctors and staff are extremely uncooperative with the law officers, however, leading Teddy to suspect that something nefarious is happening on the Island, especially at the Lighthouse, which guards refuse to let the Marshals enter.

The Lighthouse on Shutter Island ©

Haunted by his experiences as a soldier liberating the Nazi concentration camp Dachau,

American soldier liberate Dachau in Shutter Island ©

as well as by the death of his belovèd wife Dolores (Michelle Williams),

Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) in Shutter Island ©

Teddy is determined not only to find the missing inmate, Rachel, who disappeared from a locked cell on a locked ward, but to unearth Shutter Island’s sinister — perhaps criminal — secrets.

Teddy and Chuck, attempting to reach the Shutter Island Lighthouse ©

Ultimately, like all neo-noir protagonists, Teddy becomes “trapped in a difficult situation” and is “forced to make choices out of desperation.”

Leonard DiCaprio as Teddy in Shutter Island ©

Suspenseful and gripping, Shutter Island ultimately becomes heartbreaking — even if you think you’ve guessed the ending about halfway through — mostly because of Leonardo DiCaprio’s incredibly powerful performance as the noble but flawed Teddy.

Rated R for mature subject matter, Shutter Island received mostly positive critical reviews and has become Scorsese’s second-highest grossing film worldwide, earning over $294M. It’s available for rent for $2.99-3.99 from Amazon, from iTunes, and from YouTube.


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Filed under Actors, Film Noir, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Movies/Films, No Spoilers Review, Noir, Noir / Neo-Noir, Review/No Spoilers, Suspense

Leonardo is The Man in the Wilderness in Oscar-Winning The Revenant


No Spoilers


I already knew the story of American trapper and Wilderness Man Hugh Glass before I heard of the film The Revenant, since My Guy was totally devoted to the 1971 film starring Richard Harris, Man in the Wilderness. Both films recount the tale of Glass, who was mauled by a grizzly bear, presumed to be dying by his companions, and abandoned — without food or weapons — in the wilderness.


Since Glass himself never gave any versions of the frightening and ultimately miraculous events, I assume his tale has been embellished by those who dramatized his amazing story of survival. First appearing in a Philadelphia literary journal The Portfolio, the story was soon picked up by other newspapers. Eventually, as you can imagine, the tale became a legend.

An avid outdoorsman himself, My Guy has always known about Hugh Glass, having first become familiar with his story from a book about Jim Bridger, a young boy who volunteered to stay with Glass after the grizzly attack, but then, along with the others, left him. I’ve seen Man in the Wilderness at least a dozen times myself since My Guy and I have been together, so I know the story and the film well. None of that prevented me from being completely captivated by the 2015 telling of the Glass story, The Revenant. 


“Inspired by true events,” The Revenant, which means “the returned,” as in “from the dead,” as in a spirit or ghost, gives us a new version of Hugh Glass, based somewhat on the novel of the same name by Michael Punke, based more on the dramatic screenplay by Oscar-winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu, who gave Glass’ character a (deceased) Pawnee wife and son, and made him hell-bent on revenge against the men who abandoned him. Leonardo DiCaprio won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Glass. Leonardo claims it was the most challenging and demanding role of his career, and The Revenant is riveting.


It begins with an Indian attack upon a group of trappers who are preparing their annual supply of pelts for sale. Like the battle scenes in Platoon, the initial battle between the trappers and the Indians in The Revenant is confusing, but that doesn’t detract from its intensity once you realize that it’s supposed to be confusing and frightening. If you just let yourself enjoy the drama of the scene, you’ll become totally captivated.


The bear attack on Hugh Glass is one of the most disturbing and unsettling events of the film, and I was surprised to learn that it only takes up 2 minutes of the 156-minute film. Even though I knew the story and knew the Grizzly attack in this film version was bound to be more realistic than that in the Richard Harris film, I was clutching my throat in horror during the intense scene. I would not recommend letting children see this portion of the film, especially if you live in an area populated with bears, as I do here on Big Rock Candy Mountain.


Because of Glass’ grievous injuries, the leader of the expedition, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson, above) believes Glass’ death is imminent. Since the group fears another Indian attack, he requests volunteers to stay with Glass till he dies, then to bury him, then to rejoin the others as they return to the fort. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy),


Jim Bridger (Will Poulter),


and Hugh Glass’ (fictional) son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck, below L)


all volunteer to stay with the trapper-guide until his death, when he is put into the grave.


But Hugh’s not dead.

And the film just gets better from there as Glass attempts to survive in the Wilderness without weapons or food, and to heal from his crippling injuries, which prevent him from eating, and expose bone to the elements.


The film’s scenery is stunning and overpowering. The music is excellent. The fictional elements added to Hugh Glass’ story, like his going after revenge against Fitzgerald, only add to The Revenant‘s incredible action. The hallucinatory elements, when Glass is wounded and he imagines his (fictional) dead wife urging him to keep on breathing, are well done and effective.


Even if you know the story of one of America’s most famous trappers and Wilderness Men, Hugh Glass, you’ll be able to thoroughly enjoy this Hollywood version of his tale of survival. At the very least, you’ll adore Leonardo DiCaprio and appreciate his talent even more than you may have before he won the Oscar for this role.


You can watch The Revenant on HBO free if you’re a subscriber, or purchase it for $14.99 on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Video, and more. You can watch the official trailer before you decide to commit yourself to Hugh Glass’ terrifying yet inspiring story. You’ll want to watch it more than once, I guarantee you.



Filed under Actors, Film Videos, Films/Movies, History, Movies/Films, Review, Violence