MOVIE REVIEW: It turns out the delay for Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ was not a harbinger of doom after all. The Oscar-winning director remains at the height of his powers, tapping into his inner Alfred Hitchcock to deliver maximum psychological chills and thrills. An indelible performance from Leonardo DiCaprio is just one of the highlights of this beautifully crafted, dark portrait of guilt, madness and murder. Book your passage now.
The news that Paramount Pictures had opted to push Martin Scorsese‘s “Shutter Island” out of its prime Fall release date last year sent the kind of media shivers reserved for projects in trouble. In the end, Paramount’s awards season line-up of “Up in the Air” and the unjustly maligned Peter Jackson adaptation of “The Lovely Bones” proved a mixed bag for the studio. It is a shame, too. “Shutter Island” more than delivers on the expectations associated with its pedigreed cast and filmmaking team.
Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel and adapted for the screen by Laeta Kalogridis, “Shutter Island” finds Scorsese relishing the pulp aspects of the narrative. All sound and fury, shadows and light, the director mounts a skillful assault of the senses. From the first frame, audiences are meant to feel a sense of displacement. As U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) weathers the choppy seas crossing Boston Harbor to Shutter Island, the film’s baroque soundtrack can only heighten the anticipation of what he — and the audience — will encounter.
Behind the gates of a fortress transformed into a mental institution for the criminally insane, Daniels attempts to solve the disappearance of a missing patient, an impossibility since there is no way of escape. Hell literally breaks loose as a storm approaches and clues to the true nature of the island begin to alter DiCaprio’s reality. And while some of “Shutter Island” defies plausibility, it remains an unforgettably dark journey into one man’s broken mind and heart.
Given the B-movie conventions of this meticulous 1950’s period production, Scorsese purposefully threatens to let the melodrama boil over. It is an often at a relentless pace, framed by Dante Ferretti‘s menacing production design. Jarring editing, dream sequences that are both beautiful and terrifying lead and other visual spice only reaffirm that Scorsese is enjoying this stage of his illustrious career.
At times, “Shutter Island’s” use of star cameos as the possible lunatics that pop up at key points of the film is a little too pat. But, even with a formidable cast that includes Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, MIchelle Williams, Max Von Sydow and a particularly effective Jackie Earle Haley, it is ultimately DiCaprio’s show.
The three-time Oscar nominee, whose babyfaced looks have nearly undermined the maturity of some of his adult roles, offers one of his best performances to date. In this reteaming with Scorsese (“The Departed”), at long last, DiCaprio’s face has caught up with the emotions of a man haunted by memories of death and destruction. It is a fearless performance, but one that nearly runs out of steam just before its mind-bender of a finish. Still, DiCaprio’s committed efforts resonate strongly, especially when he delivers the film’s final, unforgettable line.
After a steady stream of box office detritus this winter, the arrival of “Shutter Island” is a welcome one. To be fair, “Shutter Island” will not please all admirers of Scorsese’s legendary canon of work. In the end, it is more about style and hitting the right notes of the genre’s conventions than truly delving deep into the dark corners it so carefully paints. Still, there is much beauty and entertainment to be found in this twisted tale. Scorsese and DiCaprio are determined to envelop all with Daniels’ steady descent into madness. In the end, it remains a journey that is definitely worth taking in a lackluster season.
“Shutter Island” is now playing citywide. L.A. moviegoers can click on Fandango for ticket and theater information.
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