Entertainment » Movies

Shutter Island

by David Foucher
EDGE Publisher
Friday Feb 19, 2010
Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Shutter Island"
Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and Leonardo DiCaprio in "Shutter Island"  

Martin Scorsese is a consummate filmmaker with a deep-rooted working relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio, their collaboration having brought us such respected films as The Departed and The Aviator. It was already a bad omen when, last fall, Shutter Island's theatrical release was rescheduled to reshoot the ending. But when a Scorsese/diCaprio film opens in February - the second month in Hollywood's winter dead zone - you know something's wrong. And while Shutter Island is a capable translation of Dennis Lehane's police mystery/thriller, it seems oddly misconstructed. The result is an emotionally scattered and, for some, predictable film.

The movie takes place in 1954; US Marshals Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) take a Massachusetts ferry to Shutter Island, where a prison for the criminally insane insulates its inmates from the mainland. In fact, Chief psychologist Dr. Crawey (Ben Kingsley) prefers that the residents of Shutter Island be called "patients" - and in the case of the present mystery, one such disturbed individual has mysteriously escaped from her locked room while a bevy of guards stood watch. It's Daniels' and Aule's job to figure out what happened; but with a hurricane bearing down and a significant amount of circumstantial evidence pointing to illegal drug therapy and invasive brain surgery on the island, things rapidly go a little... er, crazy. And if the two Marshals can't get off the island, the truth might never be known.

It's an interesting premise, born of our long fascination with psychological deviation; unfortunately the film distracts its audience from what should have been a accelerating descent, ala Conrad, into the heart of one man's darkness. Regrettably, Scorsese paces the film erratically; some moments are riveting, while others are interminably slow. And where Lehane's written machinations are effective at keeping his readers guessing for much of the book, the film is far, far more transparent - not a good thing when the emotional success of a movie hinges on keeping its audience off-guard. Rather than relying on character and the muddling of exposition to achieve his goals, Scorsese throws in contrastive, turgid musical themes and a combination of swish-pans and arcing craned camera moves; these serve merely to disconnect his audience from the evolving riddle. And for many, the lack of effective prestidigitation will shortcut the mystery's guessing game.

DiCaprio manages to deliver a character alternatively determined and disturbed, a potent mix that he plays well; this might be his most acute exploration of the human condition yet. Kingsley also works his role to depth, imbuing a rather simple mad doctor pastiche with nuances that, in the case of Crawey, keep his motives well-masked. And there are some very effective smaller performances - most notably Ted Levine in the role of a hyper-rational Warden. Ironically, when placed in the discordant cacophony of Scorsese's direction, these well-performed characters never reach the level of subtlety required to keep us both invested and curious - their story hits the viewer like electric shock treatments rather than cognitive behavioral therapy.

Ultimately, all these desperate machinations (look this way - no, look that way!) make the film feel overlong, which also contributes to independent audience thinking (not good for this type of film); at 2.5 hours, it needs no help to feel drawn out, but at times feels excessively sluggish. Had Scorsese focused on telling a taut, thrilling story in an abridged time period, we might have been more distracted and the film might have worked brilliantly. As it is, Shutter Island just plays like an overworked, underwhelming vanity.

David Foucher is the CEO of the EDGE Media Network and Pride Labs LLC, is a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist Association, and is accredited with the Online Society of Film Critics. David lives with his daughter in Dedham MA.

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