Review by Jack Foley
MARTIN Scorsese’s fourth collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio is arguably their most challenging yet given that it serves as much as a twisting psychological thriller as it does an homage to some of the director’s greatest cinematic influences.
Part missing person thriller, part mind-bending paranoia pic and part horror movie, Shutter Island does require a lot of patience at times from viewers, but given the filmmaking talent behind it, the payoff is typically great.
Based on the acclaimed novel by Dennis Lehane, the film picks up in 1954 as US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) travels to an offshore island for the criminally insane with his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the disappearance of a murdress from her cell.
Daniels, however, has another motive for being assigned to the case, and hopes to be able to confront another of the island’s patients, an arsonist, over his belief that he was complicit in the death of his wife.
Once there, however, nothing is quite what it seems and Daniels soon begins to suspect that the island’s chief psychologists (Sir Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow) may be involved in unethical experiments being overseen by their own government.
Attempting to make sense of it all, Daniels increasingly finds his own sanity at risk, particularly given that flashbacks to his past reveal a torrid World War II experience during the liberation of a Concentration Camp, and the complexities of the tragedy surrounding the fate of his wife and kids.
Given the numerous strands that make up the story, it’s little wonder that Shutter Island takes some following: it’s as complex as they come, and its ultimate truth is played extremely close to its chest. That said, even once the revelations come, Scorsese has added a little ambiguity that makes repeat viewings a worthwhile venture.
It’s just one sign that the director is having some fun. Others come in the form of the innumerable references to other movies, whether it’s the likes of Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor or the noirish elements of Jacques Tourneur’s Out Of The Past, or even Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man.
Scorsese has such a grasp of cinema history that watching Shutter Island can sometimes feel like a subtle guide to the classics you may have missed, such is the attention to detail and the cleverness of the tipping of the hat.
But there’s also the sleight of hand ethical dilemmas he visited in movies such as Cape Fear, or the fractured mental states of past characters from movies such as Taxi Driver to consider too…
And as such, he also gives his actors plenty to work with, especially DiCaprio’s central character who looks and plays increasingly more tortured the longer the film lasts.
DiCaprio continues to grow with each film as a performer and here juggles all that Scorsese and Lehane can throw at him, appearing at times sympathetic, dogged, ruthless and broken. It’s a masterful performance matched by the quality of the supporting cast surrounding him, whether that’s Sir Ben Kingsley’s psychologist or Mark Ruffalo’s charismatic partner, or even minor roles from the likes of Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer and Elias Koteas.
It’s a tribute to Scorsese, meanwhile, that even approaching two and a half hours, very few frames feel wasted… even though some might feel that way once you’re in the midst of Teddy’s torment.
Come the clever finale, however, there’s an overriding urge to revisit Shutter Island to piece together what you may have missed – another sign of a good filmmaker excelling at his craft.
That’s not to say Scorsese doesn’t push his luck at times, for there will be many cinema-goers who find the film impenetrable, indulgent and overlong. But for true connoisseurs of cinema’s past, and for fans of the still flourishing Scorsese-DiCaprio partnership, this is a challenging but still satisfying masterclass in direction and performance.
Running time: 138mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August 2, 2010
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Leonardo DiCaprio interview
- Martin Scorsese interview
- Sir Ben Kingsley interview
- Shutter Island - Berlin Premiere in photos
- Watch the trailer