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Notes from the back row

Prison blows, Shutter Island doesn’t

No one likes to be behind bars. I know because I was down by that blazing pile of metal doobies they built down in Vancouver (a.k.a. the Olympic flame) and there were a few thousand bitter people down there peering through an eight-foot metal fence, 50 feet further back than they wanted to be. Prison blows too, I hear.

But the worst would be being locked down on an isolated, wind-hammered rock in the Boston harbour alongside all the snakiest criminal psychotics on the Eastern seaboard. Welcome to Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio are back together for the fourth time ( Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed ) and the awesome streak continues this Friday at the always-good-times Village 8 theatres.

Shutter Island is not your typical Scorsese tough-guy flick like Casino though. Rather it's an intense, brooding, horror-thriller more in the vein of his 1991 Cape Fear remake (which ruled).

DiCaprio kills it as a U.S. Marshal called out to an asylum for the criminally insane to investigate a missing inmate who disappeared from a locked room. Leo and his new partner (Mark Ruffalo, underused) make the mistake of getting off the boat and once you're on Shutter Island, things get weird pretty fast. The dudes running things may or may not be on the level and above the law and Leo brings his own mental problems in with him.

Working from a novel by Dennis Lehane ( Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River ), Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson ( Inglorious Basterds ) craft an instantly creepy, ultra moody, dread-filled world of deep shadows, heavy blues, steep walls and twisting hallways - a disturbing visual setting that becomes a major character of the film. That Shutter Island holds a secret is instantly felt, but watching as Scorsese unravels that secret (along with DiCaprio's mind) for over two hours is what makes the film so enjoyable. This is tense, heavy shit but there are gonna be some people unhappy with the ending. It's not quite the "it-was-all-a-dream!" sucker cop-out twist that utterly ruins a film (see Secret Window ) but it does stick with that same M Knight Shamalayan sensibility that worked in The Sixth Sense and rarely since.

Luckily, Scorsese realizes the ending is bunk and all but gives it away in the theatrical trailer for Shutter Island. Then he focuses more on getting to that end and ultimately delivers a real nail-biter of a film. Marty mixes his standard classic-style filmmaking technique (not a lot of MTV edits and handheld follow action-cams) with a brooding psychology that will stand up to anything these days. This is a guy who loves those old classic American films, knows how to make them perfectly, but isn't afraid to kick you in the brain stem with some real heavy shit that's as thematically contemporary as anything out there. Shutter Island is a film about guilt, trauma, the horrors we inflict on each other, and the justifications we give.

With a supporting cast including Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Jackie Earl Haley and Emily Mortimer, Shutter Island , on paper, looks like the kind of film that would usually come out in November and get a bunch of Oscar hype. Instead, it comes out this Friday, midway through a month when studios usually dump their crappiest flicks. This timing works, however, for people suddenly living under a billion dollars worth of security and a shitload of new "laws," fences, and barred barricades in their town - Shutter Island might be the kind of dread-filled story that will help keep us all in line.

Be good, because prison blows - they've got the wrong kind of bars in that place.