Genre: Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Emily Mortimer, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Adapted from Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, Shutter Island is an acoustically arresting film which is an investigation into hysterical excess. The novel is a tight and effective account of two US Marshals investigating the impossible disappearance of a patient from a psychiatric facility on the titular island. It’s laden with gothic imagery, winding through its investigation with such a deft hand that what is in hindsight an inevitable twist, becomes a cataclysmic shift in narrative.
The film follows on much the same lines with an overwhelming musical score and striking visuals which unite in such a way as to evoke a sense of dread that gives the hospital a harrowing third dimension beyond the familiar nature of the plot. Awash with the Hitchcockian, the film is akin to Scorsese’s previous thriller Cape Fear which would be a favourable comparison were DiCaprio as evocative in this lead role as De Niro was. His casting as a character haunted by the death of his wife draws similar comparisons to Inception and, because of this, Scorsese’s dream scenes seem all the more inconsequential.
The visuals in these scenes also suffer from some poor CGI and you wonder if this tribute to the classic thrillers would have been better being made 50 years earlier. While a wonderful pastiche, the film is often little more than a high budget B-movie. Although it’s still a joy to see Scorsese celebrate his Oscar win for The Departed with the chance to relish in excess.
It’s easy to find further fault with the holocaust sequences. Occurring in flashback, and attempting to draw a somewhat needless comparison between the concentration camps and the mental facility, the scenes seem mostly out of touch. One visual from these scenes stands out however, leaving a lasting effect on viewer and protagonist as papers ominously rain down in the empty office of the camp’s commandant. As the film’s final act gets underway it’s a poignant image that draws some intriguing, if brief, parallels.
Also memorable in the film are Mark Ruffalo, as Di Caprio’s partner, and Ben Kingsley as the most sinister and controversial health practitioner since Dr Caligari. Ruffalo as his trademark perpetually-concerned detective, and Kingsley in full Trevor Slattery swing, seem to be having the same fun as Scorsese which makes many of the film’s flaws forgivable.
The final scene, ending on a note of ambiguity, before the return of The Shining-esque honking soundtrack over the credits, seems to imply that Scorsese wants the film to linger with its audience a little longer than it actually does. A well sustained thriller (and not the horror suggested by the release trailers) then, the film is a delirious adventure into B-movie territory. Boosted by a strong cast and high production values the film is sadly forgettable in the shadow of Scorsese’s greater works.