Director Martin Scorsese channels his inner M. Night Shyamalan.
The year is 1954. When a murderess mysteriously escapes from Shutter Island, an isolated hospital for the criminally insane, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is called in to begin an investigation on the disappearance. Along with fellow marshal Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), they meet with Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) to start gathering clues on how a woman in a locked cell could escape her confines and slip past a dozen orderlies without raising an alarm… or did she?
There are essentially three mysteries to solve: what’s happening, why is it happening, and why did it need to happen. For myself, two of those mysteries were disappointingly simple to solve, leaving only one that really can’t be solved until vital clues are provided at the very end (what I like to refer to as “Murder, She Wrote” writing.) If this was the intent, it makes for a poor viewing having to wait. But if the clues I caught early on weren’t really meant to be noticed, then why call attention to them at all? If they were meant to be seen for those who catch them, the reward for doing so is tepid at best.
From the previews (to which I’ll confess there were too many of), Shutter Island might be mistaken for a horror film (which I’ll also confess I was hoping for.) The setting and atmosphere lend itself to the genre as does much of the imagery, but this is ultimately a mystery thriller meant to get inside your head. Still, with all the blood and flashback carnage, I can’t help wonder if it would have improved this picture to go all out horror and really cut loose graphically rather than remain cerebral.
If you’ve watched the previous three Scorsese films all with DiCaprio in the mix somewhere, it isn’t hard to point the finger at this being the weakest of the four. Like M. Night Shyamalan’s muse Bruce Willis, perhaps Scorsese should retire Leonardo DiCaprio for new blood instead. But with all the controversy of pushing the film out to February rather than show it when it was advertised for last fall, were these issues the reason, or was the movie held back because the filmmakers feared it would be accused of being Oscar-bait? If the final cut placed in theaters is any indication, there certainly shouldn’t have been any fear of awards contention, especially when the closing scene hints at what could have been a better film.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)