Review: “Shutter Island”

Scorsese’s latest picture mixes Gothic horror detective suspense.

Teddy (DiCaprio) and Chuck (Ruffalo) prepare for the storm.
PHOTO COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Teddy (DiCaprio) and Chuck (Ruffalo) prepare for the storm. PHOTO COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES

Tony Libera

âÄúShutter IslandâÄù DIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Sir Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo. RATED: R SHOWING AT: Area theaters, Friday, Feb. 19 ItâÄôs risky business dabbling in genre fiction these days. Detective clichés and mystery motifs are so engrained in cultural consciousness that audiences of any medium can quickly sniff out a plot twist with little effort, thereby ruining their own experience. While âÄúShutter IslandâÄù is bound by certain conventions of the mystery genre, the film version manages to avoid major pitfalls thanks to an amalgamating script, an all-star cast and the currently unequaled skill of Martin Scorsese. The film opens with a stalwart U.S. Marshal named Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) meeting his new partner aboard a ferry headed for Shutter Island, home to a hospital for the criminally insane. The two have been paired up to investigate the disappearance of a patient named Rachel Solando who has managed to escape, despite the fact that she was last seen in an inescapable room. The sheer impossibility of the situation pushes Teddy down the rabbit hole, and soon it appears that heâÄôs in the middle of a sinister government conspiracy. The snaking storyline, along with ScorseseâÄôs referential direction, turns âÄúShutter IslandâÄù into a genre blend, twisting standard gumshoe fair with B-horror scares and art house impulses. âÄúAt first glance it was very much a thriller genre piece with twists and turns that worked on lots of different layers,âÄù DiCaprio said in a press conference alongside Scorsese and Sir Ben Kingsley. âÄúBut once we started to unravel the nature of what was going on on Shutter Island, it took us to places that thereâÄôs no way we could have foreseen.âÄù A psychological-horror-mystery might not sound like ScorseseâÄôs bag, but he clearly has a knack for it. âÄúI think the nature of the situation automatically brings to mind certain genres, certain images that go back several hundred years,âÄù Scorsese said, adding that the ability to use these references without being cliché was key. He paints the filmâÄôs world in muted hues that somehow feel off, leading to a sense of noir-ish nostalgia and general uneasiness. The setting lulls the audience into dank caves and creepy cells, tricking the mind with shadow puppets and red herrings. At the same time, Scorsese films Teddy with a certain amount of affection. As dark and unnerving as the film can be, we never stop empathizing with the protagonist and never stop hoping for his success. âÄúAt the end of the day, it is what Martin Scorsese does best, and that is portraying something about humanity and human nature and who we are as people,âÄù DiCaprio said. âÄúAnd thatâÄôs what makes it stand out and makes it different than just being a normal genre piece.âÄù Sir Ben Kingsley, eloquent as a poet laureate, said of the film and the directorâÄôs prowess: âÄúIt is, in a sense, a love story. Marty directs like a lover; everything is held together by affection. Affection for his craft, affection for his actors, affection for his crew, affection for the material and affection for the great journey of cinema in our lives.âÄù As much as âÄúShutter IslandâÄù should be classified as a Scorsese picture, the acting talent deserves a strong tip of the cap. DiCaprio plays Teddy to a T, solid in his initial fortitude and distressing in the shaky uncertainty that follows. By the end, DiCaprio has run the gamut from the heartbreaking to the terrifying and we see the work heâÄôs put into understanding his character. âÄúWe realized we had to push certain boundaries that we didnâÄôt think we needed to,âÄù added DiCaprio. âÄúThere were a few weeks there that were, I have to say, some of the most hardcore filming experiences IâÄôve ever had. It was like reliving trauma in a way. It was a very difficult character to take on.âÄù Sir Ben Kingsley, who plays the head physician, Dr. John Cawley, performs a masterful feat, maintaining the same concerned physicianâÄôs air throughout, despite the changes in tone and plot. The result is a performance so nuanced that it necessitates repeat viewings to fully appreciate. âÄúYou donâÄôt sentimentalize your performance, you donâÄôt embellish your performance,âÄù Kingsley stressed. Whether itâÄôs on the acting front or behind the directorial lines, âÄúShutter IslandâÄù succeeds in both disturbing and visually dazzling its audience. At 138 minutes, the film occasionally feels long and weighed down, a result of intensely drawn-out tension. But instead of coming off as laborious to watch, the aesthetics make each frame pleasing to the eye. Many artists go stale from the ravages of age, but at 67, Martin Scorsese is still at his peak. It took him nearly 40 years to win his first directing Oscar (âÄúThe DepartedâÄù), but he just might pull a repeat. 4 of 5 stars