Movies that play with the mind are difficult to make. More often than not, directors lack restraint and the movies are little more than nonsensical self indulgent disasters. It is difficult to walk the fine line between providing a coherent story and throwing in sufficient twists, clues, references and tricks in place to spot and interpret. Shutter Island is a departure from Scorsese's usual works. Although it is not his best film., it is a very worthy entry in his repertoire.
The movie is based on a novel by the same name by Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone). It is certainly one of his more difficult books to film. The plot is thick with twists and turns every few pages. The characters are difficult, complex and keep you wondering what the fuck is going on till the very last page. The conversations are rich yet sometimes ambiguous in their meaning. Sometimes, answers are right in front of you, or at least so you think. But they are so cleverly veiled that it is impossible to spot them. Who is the monster here? Who is the villain? This is what you think for a long time, even after the movie is over.
The plot is as follows: U.S. Federal Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo Dicaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Shutter Island, a rocky island which also houses a hospital for the criminally insane. A patient, Rachel Salondo (Emily Blunt), has gone missing on the island and they are responsible for locating her. On this, they are assisted by the Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who is running the hospital and his army of officers and doctors. What starts out as an ordinary witch-hunt soon appears to develop into something far more sinister leading the Marshals to question everything, including reality itself.
Martin Scorsese clearly has fun with the source material. He summons all his technical finesse to create an atmosphere where there is a constant sense of danger, even impending doom. The tension is palpable and the visuals, frightfully effective. He teases us with deliberate continuity errors and subtly veiled references while still managing to provide us with a discernable and clear storyline. The twists are well placed and the tight script by Laeta Kalogridis includes some beautifully written scenes that are haunting and faithful to the spirit of the book. The movie keeps you engrossed throughout and the culmination, in its quiet, unassuming way, hits you like a ton of bricks.
The performances are uniformly excellent. It is heartening to see just how much Leonardo Dicaprio has grown as an actor from a child actor in This Boy’s Life, to chocolate boy in Titanic and now this. Under the tutelage of Scorsese, he has pushed himself consistently and evolved into one of the finest actors of his generation. Here again, he gives us an unforgettable performance as the Marshal as a man of violence haunted by his dark and violent past. Ruffalo and Kingsley do a fine job in supporting roles. Max Von Syndow leaves a strong impact in the small but important role of Dr. Naehring. Ditto for Jackie Earl Haley.
Shutter Island is highly entertaining thriller. It is dark, violent and yet, oddly enough, delirious fun. It has been a long time since a movie so successfully teased its audience and made them think this long and hard. Scorsese’s direction is very much Hitchcockian: tense; flamboyant and yet, restrained. The movie is well worth the price of the admission ticket. And in the end of it, I would like you to ask yourself: could it have ended any other way? The more you think about the possibilities, the more you will appreciate this little gem of a film.