Set in 1954, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is investigating the mysterious escape of a female inmate from Ashecliffe Hospital, a prison/asylum for the criminally insane. Her sudden disappearance from a locked and guarded cell is made all the more perplexing by the fact that the prison is located on Shutter Island, a remote island surrounded a rocky shore and harsh waves (think a Bostonian Alcatraz). When the hospital’s chief administrator and head psychiatrist Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) is less than forthcoming with personal records, Daniels and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) slowly begin to uncover what they believe to be a conspiracy involving the mistreatment of the inmates. [morelink]
Daniels, of course, has his own tortured back-story. He’s a WWII vet still haunted memories of his dead wife and the war atrocities he encountered while liberating Dachau. As he delves further into the puzzle that is Ashecliffe Hospital, he becomes increasingly disturbed by his own recollections and hampered by his own tenuous grasp on reality. Directed by Martin Scorsese, fresh off his first (and long overdue) Academy Award for directing, the film is something of a throwback. This is good ol’ fashion Hollywood filmmaking: big actors, big director, and big issues. It’s the twisty-turny, suspenseful kind of film Hitchcock would have made. Scorsese captures the action with his sweeping camera and striking imagery.
Like his most recent film, the vastly overrated The Departed, the total is less than the sum of it’s parts. Scorsese, like a NASCAR driver at go-kart track, elevates material that is beneath his enormous talents. Instead of giving us a true Scorsese film, like Taxi Driver, he’s giving us a genre picture, like Cape Fear; using his art-house sensibilities to take a standard Hollywood potboiler to the next level. And by and large, he succeeds not by making the film more realistic but by making it more grandiose. Each element builds upon the last. Each fever dream more feverish than the last, each image more arresting, each musical cue more ostentatious. This movie is a lot of things but subtle isn’t one of them. He continues to layer each element on top of the other; building the film to a fever pitch of dramaturgical intensity. The story is an intricate windy road that repeatedly circles back on itself; sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Ultimately the film’s final sucker punch is a bit of a contrivance but it’s all rendered so beautifully and filmed so masterfully that you might find, like I did, that you don’t really care.