I’ve never seen a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio that I didn’t like. Not surprisingly some of my favorite movies starring him were also directed by Martin Scorsese. The last three movies in which the two have worked together (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed) have been nominated for more than 25 Academy Awards. My expectations could not be bigger.
It has been reported that Scorsese had the cast watch and re-watch classic movies from the ‘50s like “Cat People” and “Shock Corridor” in order for them to accurately capture the feel for the era and settings Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island novel author and screenwriter created.
Immediately Scorsese sets the mood when introducing us to three of the movies main characters, U.S. Marshall, Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), his partner, U.S. Marshal Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) and Shutter Island itself. The huge, imposing, isolated rock off the coast of Boston is the site for a hospital for the criminally insane and is as much part of the story as is the hospital’s chief psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley).
Taking place 1954, Marshall Daniels and his new partner are headed to the island to investigate the supposed escape of a child murdering mother. Daniels has his plenty of baggage that promotes his own agenda while on the island. We know his wife died in a fire, but “it was the smoke that killed her, that’s important.” Daniels tells his partner. This is first of the many clues that Scorsese drops on the audience early on to warn us that everything is not what it may seem.
The investigation into the patient/prisoner’s disappearance is hindered at almost every turn by unhelpful doctors who withhold information, unstable, unreliable mental patients and puzzling clues that, on the surface, mean nothing. The storm that progresses throughout the movie to a full force hurricane, eventually knocking out communication and electricity isn’t very helpful either. Soon dangerous criminals are loose on the island adding to Daniel’s confusion of whether not anyone on the island can be trusted, including his partner or himself.
Co-stars Ben Kingsley (Schindler’s List) and Max von Sydow (Judge Dread, The Tudors) deliver excellent performances as the mysterious and possibly radical psychiatrists, attempting to establish “a moral fusion between law and order and clinical care” in the most “damaged and dangerous” patients there are.
Director Scorsese does a brilliant job in the building the tension through use of a wickedly sinister score and unmatched skill in cinematography. Daniels’ memories and dreams seem to be a literal interpretation of the hit song by Beyonce; “a beautiful nightmare.” His drug -or maybe guilt induced hallucinations are captured by the camera so vividly that the audience feels his hold on sanity slipping, maybe even before the character does. Slow reveals around chair backs and corners match the deliberate pacing of the plot. And although the tone of the movie is dark and troubling, the scenes never are, even when Daniels searches for the secrets of the island in an old converted Civil War barracks with no electricity.
“Shutter Island” is a psychological thriller, which means it’s not a fluffy feel good romantic comedy, CG-filled kid’s film or your latest horror remake, like what you’ll find in theaters this weekend. You’ll need to put your thinking caps on in order to keep up on this quite literal trip. As I said before, Scorsese leaves plenty of clues throughout the film for you to figure out what the real mystery is but if you choose to wait for the big reveal towards the end, you’ll still be pleasantly entertained.