A. De Niro: “You talkin’ to me?”
B. Pesci: “Do I amuse you?”
C. Day-Lewis: “I took the father, now I’ll take the son.”
D. DiCaprio: “Why are you all wet?”
Which one of these doesn’t belong? If you haven’t seen Shutter Island, then it’s an unfair question. The answer is D. Unlike Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, and Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese’s latest film is unlikely to garner ‘cult classic’ status, and is not nearly as quotable.
Here we have yet another instance where the trailer for a film is misleading—this is not a horror movie with actual ghosts and monsters. Like the director’s 1991 remake of Cape Fear, the monsters are all too human, and the ghosts exist only in the mind. When done right, psychological thrillers that tap a noir-ish realism are even more effective and moving than metaphysical constructs. For instance, Hannibal Lecter is actually plausible, and, therefore, more unsettling than Jason or Freddy Kruger. Shutter Island’s villains are based in reality—tabloid headline fodder, really. And for this reason, especially when the film finally revs up three quarters through it’s over two-hour running time, we are devastatingly aware of, if not morbidly impressed by, the power of Scorsese’s infinite dark side.
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone), Shutter Island is, quite literally, bleaker and murkier than anything Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have collaborated on thus far. And that’s saying something. With recent films like The Departed and Revolutionary Road (not a Scorsese film, but equally as dour), the actor is clearly still trying to exorcise the ghost of Titanic’s Jack Dawson. DiCaprio seems hell-bent on proving that he’s bitter, unattractive, and a sociopathic badass. In most cases (esp. The Departed) it all works—he just needs to work on his Boston accent. In Shutter Island, DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal investigating the disappearance of a murderess who has vanished from a hospital for the criminally insane on a very remote island in Boston Harbor, circa 1952. Scruffy, jittery, and frenetic, DiCaprio delivers on a large scale—he’s in nearly every single frame. Scorsese believes in him. After four films together, that’s a pretty sound reference when looking for a job.
As for Scorsese, it doesn’t take long for the director to tap his tried and true cinematic passions. The film is rife with themes of contagious violence, government conspiracies, personal loss, revenge, and just about every other human condition that represents the fallibility of man (and, perhaps even more so, woman). Typical of Scorsese, most shots are intriguingly stylistic; or, at least, their supposed to be. Unfortunately, a good portion of the film is nearly forgettable—even plodding. The payoff (which is actually quite a downer—but an essential and poignant one) is the extended mind-@&*$ of a climax. Believe me, you will be moved.
It’s not that Shutter Island is a disappointment, or a second-rate film. On the contrary, it’s hauntingly fantastic. But, while past Scorsese films have also been violence-soaked and grim, they’ve more-often-than-not offered an entertainment value that begs repeat viewing. Not so with Shutter Island. As with many mysteries that fall short of the sublime, once you’ve seen it, there’s really no need to go back—there’s nothing left to solve…
Grade: Solid B for effort, with an A+ ending.