Reviews

Shutter Island

4

DiCaprio’s an asylum seeker in Scorsese’s latest…

Shutter Island review

A ferry emerges out of a Stygian murk so impenetrable it might well be taking Orpheus to the Underworld. On board are Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), two US Marshals heading for an Alcatraz-like islet off the coast of Massachusetts housing a hospital for the criminally insane. Their objective? To investigate how a multiple murderess (Emily Mortimer) managed to escape from a locked room without anyone noticing. Yet this is more than just an assignment for Teddy, an ex-GI tormented by memories of liberating Dachau nine years earlier and of his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), who died in a suspicious apartment fire. It’s also a cue for revenge and the start of four days of reckoning that will force him to face secrets buried in his past and locked in his subconscious.

So begins Shutter Island, an impeccably assembled genre thriller from Martin Scorsese that lets the Oscar-winning filmmaker pay painstaking homage to the Hollywood film noirs of the ’40s and ’50s. Laura, Kiss Me Deadly and Out Of The Past are some of the titles it recalls, along with more recent brain-scramblers like Memento and The Usual Suspects. There’s also a sizeable nod to Shock Corridor, Sam Fuller’s 1963 loony-bin exposé, not to mention numerous stylistic lifts from Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari.

Yet Marty does not simply tread well-worn ground. He negotiates it anew, like an expert cartographer mapping land thought explored and finding fresh formations in the process. Early in the film, a delusional patient is celebrated for possessing an “elaborate fictional structure”. That’s the least that can be said of this faithful adap of Dennis Lehane’s 2003 bestseller – in which each component of its labyrinthine plot interacts flawlessly with its neighbours en route to a rug-pulling reveal so fiendish it could have been cooked up by Keyser Soze himself.

It’s not so much the climax that satisfies but the journey towards it, writer Laeta Kalogridis artfully signposting each stage in Teddy’s odyssey with new characters armed either with shattering revelations or obfuscating misdirection. Jackie Earle Haley pops up as a Gollum-esque patient, hideously disfigured by a mystery assailant; Patricia Clarkson is discovered inside a cave, imparting information from behind a flickering flame like the Delphic Oracle; while Ted Levine appears as a warden with a penchant for  spiritual philosophy. (“God loves violence!” he grins. “Why else would there be so much of it?”) Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow play doctors on either side of the healthcare debate – the one backing sophisticated therapy and meds, the other preaching a rigid regime of straitjackets, manacles and transorbital lobotomies.

Admittedly some of the detail is little more than window dressing – references to clinical experiments funded by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, for instance, or a ferocious storm that is pure Agatha Christie. Yet this is amply counterbalanced by some eye-bulging set-pieces, notably a dazzling tracking shot that puts you in the crosshairs of a firing squad as they massacre a platoon of death-camp Nazis. There’s also a series of haunting dream sequences that see Williams soaking wet, caked in blood or dissolving into ash in DiCaprio’s despairing arms.

Sporting a ferrety moustache and what he freely admits is “one fucking ugly tie”, the actor invests his fourth collaboration with Scorsese with an intense performance fuelled by barely contained rage. DiCaprio’s Teddy is a man on a mission who’s also on the edge – a seeker of the truth who refuses to turn back no matter how dark the shadows that await him. Some might feel Leo’s work is rather one-note, especially compared to the subtle mix of compassion and menace that Kingsley brings to his role or the watchful geniality Ruffalo lends to his. But that would be to downplay the skill with which the star negotiates his character’s mounting paranoia as he comes to suspect he’s a rat in a maze.

Combining expansive surveys of the hospital’s bleak environs with claustrophobic forays into its dimly lit interiors, DoP Robert Richardson gives a depth and drama to the images that are complemented throughout by Thelma Schoonmaker’s smart and intuitive editing and Dante Ferretti’s superior production design. And if the music strikes a discordant note – the decision to knit a score out of fragments of work by an assortment of composers (among them Brian Eno and Krzysztof Penderecki) results in a fractured aural landscape – it is at least fitting. Impressive.

Verdict:

Resembling a psychotropic reverie or unhinged fever dream, Shutter Island finds Scorsese at his most technically accomplished. Some may find it emotionally distant and cold to the touch, yet that’s no slight on its superb construction and fine ensemble cast.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • jenningspj

      Mar 7th 2010, 16:50

      4

      Loved it,major scorcese fan anyway but its a enjoyable film for anyone,it may not be the best from him but thats hard to beat,leo plays it well and the twists and turns leave u wondering what the hell is going on even when i thought i knew the twist it twisted further.Really liked it and i recommend to everyone.

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    • Frana

      Mar 12th 2010, 11:53

      5

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    • fergflannery

      Mar 14th 2010, 18:07

      2

      i thought the film was a bit obvious, repetitive and too long. while von sydow brought gravitas (and way too short a time on screen) kingsley brought needless comedy! It lacked punch, but delivered on style. Ruffalo was on par, but maybe Leo didnt recover from his seasickness. Not really a welcome return for Marty.

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    • hulk68

      Mar 15th 2010, 12:33

      5

      emotionally distant, cold to the touch, repetitive. Are you people kidding me, its an amazing movie, the best yet in 2010, classic directing and very immersive environment, immensly enjoyed it.

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    • TheJokerDC

      Mar 19th 2010, 14:12

      4

      Great, you need to watch it.

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    • Jkaltz11

      Mar 21st 2010, 11:38

      5

      Thinking about it more and more makes you realise how great the film really is.

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    • Jkaltz11

      Mar 27th 2010, 15:50

      4

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    • nc1234

      Apr 10th 2010, 0:11

      3

      a little predictable otherwise good

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    • christmulcahy

      Jul 12th 2010, 16:55

      4

      Classic mind-bender of a film,always keeps you guessing,usually guessing wrong.Scorsese at his best!

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    • elijay

      Jul 12th 2010, 21:55

      3

      It was a likeable movie, but I was disappointed. I found the colours too garish and the story too predictable. There was nothing new to this movie and was it was too bright for the atmosphere that it was trying to create. Also, and this is what bothered me the most, I felt the music to this film was all wrong. I like Max Richter a lot, but I felt it was not the right track for the scenes between DiCaprio and Williams. For the suspense scenes, the music was trying too hard. This made the film harder to watch than I might have found it otherwise. Although, having said this, whoever managed to take Washington's vocals from 'This Bitter Earth' and managed a seamless edit onto 'On the Nature of Daylight' by Richter for the end credits deserves a medal. That was beautiful.

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    • beck79

      Jul 15th 2010, 13:47

      Having read the book previously, very disappointed. There are some great adaptations out there but this isn't one of them for me. The film totally makes it completely obvious that there will be twists right from the start and shoves every clue in your face. You may say that's because I already knew the plot but I watched it with someone who didn't and they had guessed the ending within 30 minutes. I was expecting a gripping and absorbing film that would creep up on you but found this so blatant that I didn't connect with Dicaprio's character at all. Not a terrible film but from Scorsese I would've expected so much more.

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      5

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      Jan 4th 2011, 19:06

      5

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      4

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