Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio team up once again to bring some drama to an God-forsaken correctional institute known as Shutter Island. Scorsese obviously loves stories of isolation as reflected from his past works like The Aviator and The Departed (Also led by DiCaprio). With Scorsese, you either love his work or you hate it. I am not a huge fan but I really did enjoy the ones I just mentioned. So I went into Shutter Island not knowing what to expect.
Set in post war 1954, US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Dicaprio) and partner are sent to investigate the disappearance of an inmate at a psychiatric prison on a remote island. The island houses the worst of the worst cases and it becomes very evident that this is not a safe place- for inmates or visitors. He soon meets the head of the medical staff, Dr Crawley (Ben Kingsley) who seems to care for his patients with a tender heart and possibly an iron fist. As expected the investigation goes awry and the two Marshalls enter a cat and mouse game as they attempt to uncover the truth. That’s about as much as I can share without spoiling the plot.
There are some very strong ‘Scorsese-esque’ elements that we are all familiar with like strong male characters, claustrophobic scenes, and tension filled pacing. Then Scorsese becomes ‘the departed’ as he ventures into some heavy CGI/fantasy scenes with some extended dream/flashback sequences rich with color and effects. At one point I was asking myself ‘am I really watching a Scorsese film?’ as I questioned if I found it agreeable.
Unfortunately I did not. Even with the addition of some fantastic elements, Shutter Island never seems to build the tension beyond a certain point like we’ve experienced in so many of Scorsese films. Ambiguity is a big plot device for this movie and the audience is asked to figure out the motives of each character as the mystery unfolds. However, there just isn’t enough material to evolve the tension beyond what you would expect from a psycho, prison mad house dilemma. Scorsese was so involved with developing characters that he neglected to evolve the tension. It ended up feeling a little too contrived to me. The dream sequences diluted the reality too much resulting in forcing me out of the anxiety. Again, I can’t elaborate without ruining the plot but overall I felt like the tension stayed at about 3rd gear the whole time and it never reached its 5th gear potential.
On a positive note, there is no doubt that Leo is an amazing craftman. He brings so much gravitas to each of his roles including this one. As a US Marshall, war vet, and widower, he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. His intensity and focus is truly impressive. It’ just too bad that he is the only real redeeming part of this film. Everyone else is a distant shadow compared to largeness of DiCaprio. Even Ben Kingsley never attempts to bring the same force of nature qualities even though he clearly has the chops for it.
Visually this is a well crafted film. There is an eerie, unsettling quality in many scenes. Colors range from rich and vibrant to drab and depressing. The cinematography spanned the spectrum of classic detective drama to modern day horror film. Artistically, Scorsese went out on a limb and I think was mostly successful.
There is are some very graphic scenes of death, in particular to children that I found too disturbing to endure (I had to look away a couple of times). I know sometime a director needs the shock value to make the point but it lingered too long. Shutter was a solid 30 minutes too long and it would have benefited from trimming the fat with some of those scenes.
While I was disappointed with Shutter Island I would still moderately recommend it. It is a Scorsese movie afterall. However, while I appreciate his out of the box thinking, I concluded that some similar movies did a better job executing than this one did. So while I was glad I visited the island, I for sure won’t be back again.