Why We Can't Review 'Shutter Island'

We wanted to. Really we did.

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 16 | Posted Feb. 16, 2010

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Leo is hidden behind the studio's protective ... shutters.

Photo by Claire Iltis

We’ve been getting some emails and website comments about the abrupt paucity of PW ’s recent film coverage.

Here’s the deal: Things aren’t going well for movie critics these days. It’s a weird profession, in that we’re reliant on the studios offering us access to their product in order for us to review it, but they make all the decisions about when and where films are available to critics. Studios are strategically moving their press screening times closer to release dates, attempting to minimize feedback. The reason you’ve been seeing less in this section lately is that nothing has been screening in time for us to review it for you.

I can’t blame them. Why suffer the possibility of any negative reviews when you can just shut out the critics and crank up the hype?

This leaves us with a big dilemma: Do we review films like Valentine's Day, The Wolfman or any other movie that opened a week ago and is on its way to Redbox supermarket kiosks already, which we believe are far from what our readers want to see? Or do we simply refrain from wasting the time, space and money?

We’d hoped to devote this page to a piece on Shutter Island, the new Martin Scorsese picture. Unfortunately the movie wasn’t screening “for review” until long after our deadline.

Please note the terminology “for review,” because I’m fully aware the film has been screened all over town for the past couple weeks. I, along with other critics, wasn’t invited and wouldn’t have been allowed into the theater even if I’d tried to crash.

This experience isn’t limited to Shutter Island , though. Already this year, I’ve been deliberately shut out of screenings of The White Ribbon and Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer .

I suspect this all started with Avatar, when my editor was contacted by Fox reps just a few hours before deadline when she asked for screen shots to accompany the piece. Several all-caps emails and angry phone calls later, we agreed to pull my negative review and run it only on the website the Friday it opened. Raves from the Inquirer and the Daily News were allowed to run on the Wednesday prior to release, but my dissenting review caused a commotion.

What have we come to when a new movie by America’s greatest living filmmaker is hidden and protected from those who only wish to write about it? Martin Scorsese is the reason I went to film school instead of growing up and getting a real job. I would like nothing more than to spend this column discussing his technical virtuosity, uncanny command of music and the deeply Catholic sexual issues that keep cropping up in his work.

Instead, I can only offer you some gossip from my Boston pals who were around when Shutter Island was filming in town.

If I had a nickel for every “Leonardo is a douchebag” story I heard, I’d probably be rich. My favorite anecdote takes place on one of Scorsese’s patented movie nights, when the new film’s cast assembled for a private screening at a rented-out cinema.

Despite the place being depopulated for the evening, DiCaprio still insisted on being brought in through the back door with a protective entourage blocking all four people in attendance—throwing out their hands and screaming: “Stay away from him!”

Leo walked in with a bandanna tied over his face like a bank robber from an old Western. Um, does he have any idea that Titanic happened more than a decade ago and he’s just not that famous anymore?

Meanwhile, his Shutter Island co-star Mark Ruffalo was hanging out at the concession stand, eating a cookie and rapping with the staff, over-tipping and making friends.

I’d rather not be writing this kind of TMZ nonsense. There’s a new Martin Scorsese picture coming out this weekend. I’m more than happy to go see it with everybody else, but I still feel like I’m letting you good people down. Sorry. ■

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Comments 1 - 16 of 16
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1. Krunch said... on Feb 17, 2010 at 09:38AM

“I'd like to dislike Leo but eversince I saw him in What's Eating Gilbert Grape" I was hooked. I think he's brilliant. I do wish he'd hung around with Johnny Depp a little more and perhaps Depp's strick stretches in range when choosing roles might have rubbed off. Meanwhile, Leo being Martin' s new got-to actor hasn't helped him. He's a cop, then, he's a cop, then he's a detective.”

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2. Library Spinster said... on Feb 18, 2010 at 01:59PM

“Funny, the City Paper managed to review "Shutter Island".”

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3. Anonymous said... on Feb 18, 2010 at 02:12PM

“Ruffalo seems like a great guy. Don't worry, go see it at the midnight show and get it on line by first thing tomorrow. I'm warning ya, though--just because you're "America's best director"TM, doesn't mean every movie you make is important. PS--death to studio publicists, the fascist insects who feed off the life of the people.”

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4. BILL said... on Feb 18, 2010 at 02:30PM

“Maybe,if you wrent hyper crytical,and maybe if your reviews were a little more focused on an honest critique,and less about what a fuckin a awsome movie watcher you are marty,might let you watch his film sooner.by the way avatar was fuckin great!"just sayin"”

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5. Anonymous said... on Feb 18, 2010 at 06:11PM

“City Paper has a later publishing date, genius.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Feb 19, 2010 at 09:25AM

“PW's reviews often read like they pander to teen mentality and stupid frat boys. Let's bash any grown up movie with obligatory curses to be the "bad ass" reporter people love to read?! Ive seen too many incredible mature films PW wrote off, perhaps because they didnt understand the content. Perhaps the reviewer lashes out and attacks when intimidated by work that's more than just cool to a college freshman. So, other than seeing this on twitter, I wouldnt miss it since I dont find PW worthy of reviews either.”

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7. ruta said... on Feb 19, 2010 at 09:34PM

“The 'machine' is starting to really force feed us information, from politics to entertainment (and intertwining them) so that we stop making decisions for ourselves and just, like zombies, go blinded into the direction they deem 'proper'.
It's why "The Hurt Locker", a dull film with some average performances and absolutely NO script, is winning so many awards...The 'machine' of Big Brother wants it to. The voting is not even counted anymore...The fix is in.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Feb 20, 2010 at 12:53PM

“You make a good point, but now we can all be film critics. It used to take a week for everyone to hear how bad or good a movie was from their friends, so there was sort of a point to having movie critics. Now we can hear from each other instantaneously the night of opening whether a movie is worth seeing. So what's the point of a critic? Why is that even a job anymore? Who cares what someone they've never met, who usually has totally different (snobby, gross, and hipstery) taste in movies when they can ask people they know what they thought, knowing that they have similar taste?

Maybe it is time for you to grow up and get a real job, rather than trying to be a professional 13-year-old on the school bus. It's been proven that critics like things when they think they will and don't like them when they think they won't. You're sure you will like a Scorcese beforehand, but you were probably also sure you would be too good for Avatar before you saw it. Lame.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Feb 20, 2010 at 02:28PM

“Somebody sounds like a grade-A douchebag in this article, and it isn't DiCaprio.”

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10. TR said... on Feb 20, 2010 at 03:11PM

“Frankly, I'm disappointed in the inability of PW's film critics to get into movies like Shutter Island. Unlike most of the people commenting on this article, I actually like what you guys write, primarily because I absolutely hate it when critics do things like gloss over Avatar's total lack of a decent script in favor of making movie studios happy.”

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11. AL PETTIFORD said... on Feb 20, 2010 at 11:05PM

“I somehow cannot blame the studios from not having screenings for the critics. Are film reviewers necessary, when this time last year Paul Blart Mall Cop, was the highest grossing. I am not sure if Mr. Burns was the reviewer that went to a screening of a Ron Howard movie drunk, then bragged about it, that just says it all. I do not regularly read reviews in this paper or the Metro. I remember when the review for a movie would appear days after the film has opened. Reviews two days before opening, are counterproductive. With every Joe Schmo chining in on websites, good critics are left in the dust. I believe you guys brought this on yourselves. Peter Gruber said, these studios have to do this since most of these so called critics work on their "comedy routines" at the expense of there hundred million dollar movie. Beside it just their opinion, nothing more. Joe Baltake, the Daily News critic in the 70's, gave bad reviews to The Exorcist, The Godfather Part II, and Blazing Saddles.”

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12. David N said... on Feb 21, 2010 at 03:24PM

“It seems to me your choices here are: (1) become a studio shill like the rest or (2) see the film in question as soon as possible and write an honest review you can stand behind. Unless you don't want to cause a "commotion". At what point did all-caps emails and angry phone calls thwart the independent journalist or their editors? People who go to movies based on reviews will wait for the review and those who don't will go see The Wolfman anyway.”

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13. Mike said... on Feb 21, 2010 at 04:57PM

“Al Pettiford should do his home work. He's passed on misleading - actually wrong - information here. While Joe Baltake did give unfavorable reviews to "The Exorcist" and "Blazing Saddles" when he reviewed for the News, his analysis of "The Godfather - Part Two" was highly favorable. I know because I read him religiously but also because I kept anything written on the "Godfather" trilogy in several scrapbooks. Also to set things straight, neither "The Exorcist" nor "Blazing Saddles" received predominantly positive reviews when they were released. The critic reception for both was quite mixed. Check it out.”

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14. Myers said... on Feb 24, 2010 at 01:27AM

“First i read the (absence of a) review and i was depressed.
Then i read the comment board and was even more depressed.
Why have critics?
How to even begin answering that question.
Yeah dude, why don't you go call your friends and you can go be 'film critics' together and give each other reach-arounds while you're at it.
I don't always agree with the reviews here, but they are generally thoughtful, well-written, funny, and frequently personal - all good things.
"Pander to frat boys?" I don't know many frat boys that have the vocabulary or knowledge of film to understand where sean's reviews are coming from.
You need an "honest critique?" You mean sterile, emotionless, pandering?
ignore these schmucks and keep up the good work.”

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15. al pettiford said... on Feb 24, 2010 at 05:17PM

“To Mike, I happen to have a copy of the review for Godfather Part II. Joe titled it "Godfather Part II, an offer you can refuse". He did pan it. This is not misleading but the truth. The point I was making was these films now are classics, because people saw them before they were reviwed.”

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16. Dialurdoctor said... on Jul 16, 2011 at 06:10AM

“Now it is very easy to contact with doctor.


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