Scorsese’s latest “Shutter Island” one of his best
For all the critical acclaim director Martin Scorsese has received, rarely has he made films for the masses. Sure, “The Departed” and “The Aviator” did decent box office (over $100 million each) but they were helped tremendously by deafening Oscar buzz and big budget productions stuffed with A-list actors.
Scorsese’s latest is a more formulaic film, sticking close to author Dennis Lehane’s (“Gone, Baby Gone,” “Mystic River”) paranoid thrill ride of a novel, and it ends up being-both in tone and in execution-the creepiest and most commercially viable film the director has made since 1991’s “Cape Fear.”
His loyal fans may protest, but “Shutter Island” represents a welcome departure for Scorsese. Despite its flaws and the convoluted, often confusing nature of its exposition, “Shutter Island” mixes the horrific, psychological twists of “The Sixth Sense” with the soul-wrenching paranoia of “A Beautiful Mind.” For much of the movie, the audience doesn’t know whom to trust.
Director’s Pet du jour Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels, who along with new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrives by ferry to the only dock on an Alcatraz-like island while foreboding winds swirl and waves crash on the treacherous rocks. The pair has come to visit Ashecliffe Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane. A prisoner (Emily Mortimer) has vanished, apparently without a trace. Two doctors (Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow) act suspiciously about the true nature of the place that looks more like a spook alley on steroids.
Complicating matters are Teddy’s flashbacks and nightmares that involve concentration camp horrors he witnessed as a soldier and the death by fire of his beloved wife (Michelle Williams). For his part, DiCaprio is required to play a tortured protagonist who is at once sturdy enough to credibly move forward the narrative while at the same time carrying out the film’s nerve-shattering powerhouse punch. If “Shutter Island” had been released late last year as originally planned, Leo would undoubtedly have received an Oscar nomination-this might be his most complete performance yet.
Scorsese makes a lot of choices that confound-note the heavy-handed score early in the film (too much, too soon), and the puzzle has more pieces than can possibly be deciphered in one sitting. Some audiences will find the film’s constant shifting between the real and the imagined off-putting, preventing a strong emotional connection to the story and characters. The payoff is not so much a climax but an intricate reveal which poses as many questions as answers.
Even still, “Shutter Island” is an enticing, engaging piece of work, worthy of a second viewing, which is never a bad thing.
Rated R (violence, nudity, and profanity including 14 f-words).