Ironically, those personal bests were achieved for the poorest-reviewed of the four Scorsese-DiCaprio collaborations -- the others being 'The Departed,' 'Gangs of New York' and 'The Aviator' -- and also the poorest-reviewed of the three movies adapted from best-selling novels by Dennis Lahane ('Mystic River,' 'Gone Baby Gone'). Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio both set personal bests as 'Shutter Island' soared to a $40.2 million opening weekend. That's $13 million more than Scorsese's previous best opener, 'The Departed,' and about $10 million more than DiCaprio's 'Catch Me if You Can.'
Ironically, those personal bests were achieved for the poorest-reviewed of the four Scorsese-DiCaprio collaborations -- the others being 'The Departed,' 'Gangs of New York' and 'The Aviator' -- and also the poorest-reviewed of the three movies adapted from best-selling novels by Dennis Lahane ('Mystic River,' 'Gone Baby Gone').
'Shutter Island' scored a mediocre combined score of 61 out of 100 on Metacritic.com, where the nation's leading critics are surveyed, and it got body-slammed by the New York Times, whose critic wrote, "Something TERRIBLE is afoot. Sadly, that thing turns out to be the movie itself."
'Valentine's Day,' which had far worse reviews on its way to a $52 million three-day opening a week ago, saw business drop nearly 70 percent in its second weekend, finishing second with just $17.2 million. 'Avatar' climbed to third from fourth place in its 10th weekend with a take of $16.1 million for a domestic total of $687.8 million. Before February is out, James Cameron's juggernaut will have become the first movie to reach the $700 million domestic box office milestone.
As for 'Shutter Island,' it's not unusual for moviegoers to ignore bad reviews. It has been happening with regularity lately (besides 'Valentine's Day,' we've had the runaway clinkers 'Dear John,' 'The Blind Side' and 'New Moon'). But 'Shutter Island' is Scorsese's worst-reviewed movie since review-gathering Web sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes were launched, and I'd bet it is his least-admired work since the 1972 'Boxcar Bertha,' which I quite liked.
So, how did this particular critic/moviegoer disconnect occur? My guess is that critics are tiring of Scorsese's repetitious casting of DiCaprio. True, Scorsese had an even more prolific collaboration with Robert De Niro, who appeared in eight of the maestro's films. But the first five of the Scorsese/De Niro films occurred when both director and star were in the first phase of their careers, testing themselves in an era of unprecedented cinematic freedom.
From 'Mean Streets,' 'Taxi Driver,' 'New York, New York,' and 'Raging Bull' to 'The King of Comedy,' Scorsese and De Niro were evolving with character-driven stories, and they had the raw talent to go with their youthful courage. The first truly commercial movie of Scorsese's career, 'The Color of Money,' starred not De Niro but Paul Newman, as Fast Eddie Felson in a big studio sequel to the classic 'The Hustler.'
Scorsese's next purely commercial movie, 1991's 'Cape Fear,' did star De Niro and its $79 million box office gross would be the biggest for either man for more than a decade. But by the time of 'Cape Fear,' or of 'GoodFellas' a year earlier, Scorsese and De Niro were established and in a new phase of their careers. They were now bankable and faced with different -- one might say, compromising -- choices and from then on have been more calculating filmmakers.
I would argue that in the last 30 years, neither Scorsese nor De Niro have matched the best work of their first 15 years. De Niro has settled into age-appropriate roles that either neutralize or parody the edginess of his youthful performances. And Scorsese has become more commercially responsible. Since 'Gangs of New York,' he's concentrated on star-driven, high-profile movies and to that end, has settled on DiCaprio as his protege, a polished version of the young De Niro.
Still, critics who were there for the early Scorsese movies have a hard time accepting DiCaprio as a 21st century De Niro. He's too pretty, too soft and too cerebral. As much as they could, 'Gangs of New York' and 'The Aviator' succeeded despite their boyish star, and to DiCaprio's credit, 'The Departed' succeeded largely because of him and his rapid maturation. He had finally grown into a Scorsese-size role.
But there is the sense expressed through many of the negative reviews of 'Shutter Island' that critics don't find the material worthy of Scorsese. It is a genre film, a suspense thriller whose dense plot leaves the director with nothing better to do than ply it with intoxicating camera movements and outlandish sound effects and music. It is being most often compared with 'Cape Fear,' his emptiest and most overcooked previous movie.
Paying customers aren't making their decision based on their expectations for a Scorsese movie. They're making them based on the presence of DiCaprio as the apparent hero of an action-suspense movie. The trailer makes it look dark and fun. In any case, DiCaprio is in the full flower of his stardom, a three-time Oscar nominee whose best work is almost certainly ahead, maybe in whatever he does next.
The critics may be put off by 'Shutter Island,' and they are already highly dubious about the next Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration, in which Leo will apparently play Frank Sinatra, but critics -- like Sinatra fans -- can be very sentimental.
Feb. 19-21 Box Office
1. 'Shutter Island,' $42.2 million (2,991 theaters)
2. 'Valentine's Day,' $17.2 million (3.665), $87.4 million total.
3. 'Avatar,' $16.1 million (2,581), $687.8 million.
4. 'Percy Jackson & the Olympians,' $15.3 million (3,396), $58.8 million.
5. 'The Wolfman,' $9.8 million (3,223), $50.3 million.
6. 'Dear John,' $7.3 million (3,062), $66 million.
7. 'The Tooth Fairy,' $4.5 million (2,523), $49.9 million.
8. 'Crazy Heart,' $3 million (1,089), $21.6 million.
9. 'From Paris With Love,' $2.5 million (2,311), $21.2 million.
10. 'Edge of Darkness,' $2.2 million (2,118), $40.3 million.