Directed by Martin Scorsese
Shutter Island, Scorsese’s fourth film featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, recounts the unnerving of a U.S. Marshal with his arrival at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane to investigate the disappearance of an inmate. The film is categorized as a horror film, but falls more appropriately under the rubric of “psychological thriller.” Despite an all-star cast and a variety of technically adept cinematic features, the film falls short for a Scorsese work and even shorter for a horror film.
Teddy Daniels, the protagonist played by DiCaprio, is partnered with Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) in this investigation. Daniels’ own psychologically debilitated state is made apparent through recurring graphic flashbacks of his involvement in WWII and through hallucinations of his recently deceased wife. The film opens with Daniels vomiting on the ferry destined for the island, the camera following him under deck as he tries to gather himself. Such vulnerability does not serve him well at the outset and beyond, and suggests possibly that he might some day be greeted as an inmate himself. Indeed, upon entry into the facility, he is welcomed by a setting of low ceilings and chains as if, in time, he might find himself, given this introductory psychological makeup, restrained by them. Such symbolism is only the beginning of what makes the outcome of the film remarkably predictable.
A number of individual performances fall short of expectation, given the robustness of the cast, including such luminaries as DiCaprio, Ruffalo and Kingsley. DiCaprio comes dangerously close to overacting by portraying a subject always on the edge. Perhaps I’m being harsh with Ruffalo, but following his stellar performance as Inspector David Toschi in Zodiac, his detective role in Shutter Island paled somewhat in comparison. As for Kingsley, what can I say? I am always expecting perfection. His psychiatrist role in Shutter Island lacks authenticity, with conduct that borders upon incredulity. If his character’s stubbornness is not sufficiently annoying, his performance only fuels my animosity towards him. At times, Kingsley’s is awkward and contrived, particularly in scenes of high intensity.
The outcome of the film is perhaps predictable here as it is in many such cinematic ventures. An attempt is made to awe the audience at the end with some astronomically unexpected revelation. However, several directors of late have already explored this technique in such films as Fight Club, Identity and Secret Window and have, in turn, made the outcomes purposefully more foreseeable. In the end, we are left wondering, with any such film, whether the ending was worthwhile. We succumb to reviewing the film repeatedly both individually and by discourse with others to appreciate what might be put across in their endings. Modern audiences appear to marvel, in particular, over “revelation endings” and Scorsese has successfully exploited this fascination here.
In the end, Shutter Island does not measure up to Scorsese’s acknowledged directorial capacity. His flair for innovation and the uniqueness of his storytelling are better directed toward a simpler design, not the blockbuster horror epic with its altogether fatuous termination.