Three Out of Five Stars
Rated R/138 min.
Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to the Ashecliffe mental hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a child-murdering patient, and once they arrive, it’s clear there’s a huge secret the tight-lipped staff isn’t telling. The details of the mystery get increasingly spookier, and Daniels’s grip on reality becomes shaky in the presence of the deranged inmates.
This is Martin Scorsese’s first film since winning the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars for The Departed and his fourth collaboration with DiCaprio. While it’s better than the clunky Gangs of New York, it’s not on par with The Aviator or the film it’s been compared to, Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear, which was a much more playful, tightly constructed thriller. Still, Scorsese is clearly having a lot of fun, with nods to Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs and other horror and film noir classics. In addition to his remarkable gift behind the camera, the man really loves movies.
The film faithfully adapts the Dennis Lehane novel, which I read and admired, but there’s something I need to address. There’s a (superior) movie written and directed by William Peter Blatty (author of The Exorcist) called The Ninth Configuration, released in 1980, that has a nearly identical plot and the same surprise twist at the end. I’m not accusing Lehane or Scorsese of plagiarizing, but if Blatty decides to file a lawsuit, the makers of Shutter Island may have some ’splanin’ to do.
DiCaprio’s performance is so intense, you expect his head to explode; as always, he seizes the opportunity to work with a great filmmaker and gives his grueling role everything he’s got. At times, his vocal inflections reminded me of a young Jack Nicholson. Jackie Earl Haley, Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer have standout, scene-stealing cameo appearances, and Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley give performances as layered and thoughtful as DiCaprio’s. Then there’s Max Von Sydow, cast as a questionable authority figure. Scorsese gives him a great visual introduction and it’s no wonder: Von Sydow is 80 years old, has been in more than 100 movies and he’s still a compelling, effortlessly brilliant actor.
Though very watchable, this isn’t a Scorsese classic: it’s overlong and, despite terrific scenes and exceptional acting, is mostly forgettable. Given how high Scorsese has set the bar, that’s a letdown.