DIR: Martin Scorsese • WRI: Laeta Kalogridis • PRO: Brad Fischer, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Martin Scorsese • DOP: Robert Richardson • ED: Thelma Schoonmaker • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams
There are 2 ways to approach Shutter Island – one is as a masterfully constructed cinematic homage; the other is as a return by Martin Scorsese to the overblown schlock fest of Cape Fear. As always, the truth is somewhere in between.
Shutter Island reunites Scorsese with the scowling, cherub-faced Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio has certainly improved in his Scorsese-muse role over the years as he admirably battles to play roles beyond his features. Woefully out of his depth in Gangs of New York, he went on to just about hold his own in The Departed. In Shutter Island, Di Caprio comes of age somewhat, putting in a strong lead performance as U.S. marshal, Teddy Daniels, who comes to the island’s Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane in order to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates. Once on the island with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels is soon wrestling with his own personal demons as well as the case at hand.
As well as the inmates, Shutter Island is haunted by the presence of the likes of Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. Scorsese lashes it on thick as he crafts this popcorn pot-boiler and directs the camera mixing his own visual trademarks with twitching nods to cinematic legends.
Scorsese pulls rabbit after rabbit out of his director’s hat as he cranks up the atmosphere to match the apprehension and sense of foreboding menace on the island (beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti) as Daniels becomes deeper and deeper involved in the goings-on of the mysterious asylum and his own past. Scorsese is a master of manipulation and Shutter Island allows him to integrate his passionate love of cinema with his mastery of direction to create an ominous feast of claustrophobia, paranoia and terror that at times can leave you breathless.
And yet, the centre can’t hold. To invert a classic phrase, Shutter Island is an example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. The film suffers as the substance struggles to compete with the style. There are too many forced scenes that exist merely to cater for the overly signposted, unsatisfactory ending. On top of this, there are too many bluffing scenes that struggle to engage and at times just seem completely out of place. The film is way too long as Scorsese seeks to make an epic out of what is essentially a B-movie. If he’d trimmed the fat off here and trusted a tighter screenplay, he, and we, would have had a much better film. As it is, Shutter Island is what it is: a master craftsman doing manual labour. I was told that Lacanians love it – whatever that means…
Shutter Island is released 12th March 2010