Shutter Island

In his first dramatic feature since he won Oscars and box-office esteem with The Departed, Martin Scorsese turns Denis Lehane’s creepy novel Shutter Island into a dark, intense thriller about madness, trauma and violence arranged as an elaborate homage to Hollywood’s less respectable genres.

The prow of a boat emerges from a billow of fog, revealing a pair of grizzled detectives in fedoras, nervously smoking cigarettes. It’s 1954 and US Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are making their way to an asylum for the criminally insane on Shutter Island, a remote spot of land in Boston harbour.

They have come to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), a patient who vanished without trace from a secure cell. Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the head psychiatrist, explains that Rachel, who was incarcerated for killing her three children, is semi-catatonic and unable to look after herself. Not long after their arrival, a hurricane gathers in the harbour, providing Teddy and Chuck with enough of a diversion to sneak around the hospital. Scattered clues seem to point at a massive conspiracy, involving Nazi doctors, human experimentation and government cover-up. Soon, the mysteries are piled up in a heap, with Teddy crumbling under the pressure to put events in order.

This is Scorsese’s fourth collaboration in a row with DiCaprio, a partnership that has come to define his recent films. The actor does extraordinarily well with what is a difficult, slippery character, driven and distracted at the same time and, in each one of the various layers of the story, spot on his mark. Around him, the rest of the formidable cast take their turn in devouring rich, meaty characters, but more than that, Scorsese pays individual tribute to these character’s long history in B-movie cinema. The camera creeps up behind a chair to reveal Von Sydow’s scowling face in a crash of lightning, a malformed prisoner steps forward from the shadows in the corner of his cell, Kingsley’s evasive doctor fiddles with his bow tie as his eyes dart across the frame.

Scorsese’s ambition with Shutter Island is to distil the essence of all the old RKO chillers, inky noirs and cop thrillers of his youth into one dizzying concoction. There’s no better man for the task. Scorsese is the master of American cinema genres and has attempted all of them bar the Western; Musicals, Bible films, road movies, gangster epics and remakes. The director has an encyclopaedic knowledge, not just of titles and genres, but individual shots, moods, tones and compositions. Shutter Island is his chance to reveal the depth of that appreciation.

There are flaws, particularly in the over-explained final section, but none of them are damaging enough to detract from what is a devious, beautifully crafted folly. Shutter Island is not the neo-noir classic it might have been, it’s a touch too flashy and unhinged for that, but it is an energetic and entertaining B-Movie, as intended. A B+ Movie, in fact.


deirdre said...

I really didn't like this film at all - From the start and the obvious blue screen background to the final ending.

I love film noir, and really enjoy Scorsese's films, especially his work with Di Caprio, but this film was terrible. I felt that it was overwhelmed with clichés - that in the postmodern age need to be fresher if they are to be used seriously. It felt like parody, like an intellectual version of scary movie for the film noir fans.

In places the dialogue was unbelievably bad, and the the twists and turns of the story were obvious. There were many plot holes, for example, Chuck and Teddy would have met when the boarded the boat, so their conversation on boat was redundant, pointing out the farce of the entire movie. I also felt it was also about 30 minutes too long, and Emily Mortimer's accent was terrible!

I was really disappointed with the overall film, and maybe that's because I had such high expectations for Scorsese and Di Caprio on their fourth collaboration, but I'm sure the film could have benefited from a re-working of the script, better effects and re-editing. It is a good story, it just isn't a great story. I'd say C-

sophomorecritic said...

i don't understand how you can be terribly relevant online if you publish reviews months after the films come out. i know they don't arrive to Ireland that quickly, but man, are you trying to bulild an international followingdoggl

John said...

Hi Sophomore

At the time of writing, Shutter Island is still playing in cinemas across Ireland. It opened a couple of weeks ago, and will be around for a couple of weeks yet. That's relevant enough for me.