Shutter Island (2010) dir. Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams
By Blair Stewart
Let's get the fat out of the way quick so we can get to the meat: "Shutter Island" is in my opinion the best Martin Scorsese has done since "Casino" and a career high for Leonardo DiCaprio. After the thematic disapointment of "Gangs of New York", a tepid highlight reel that was "The Aviator" and the wealth of overpraisement for "The Departed", the director and his current muse have hit paydirt on their 4th try.
Based on the Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River", "Gone, Baby, Gone") novel, U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Dicaprio) and Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) are dispatched to an asylum on the outer-Boston hub of Shutter Island to find a missing child-killer (Emily Mortimer) in the 1950's. A prison sans an exit for the criminally insane, Ashecliffe Asylum is on the cusp of a gathering storm and therefore a foul haunt for the unravelling psyche of the widowed Daniels. The ex-GI's mind is besieged with trama from the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, and his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) keeps popping up to offer worthy detective/spousal advice. As Daniels and Aule stumble through the fog of bullshit blowing in from Ben Kingsley as the chief psychiatrist the private stratgems of Daniels, the Doctor and the inmates intertwine.
That's as far as I'll describe a plot that allows Scorsese to indulge in his adulation of the cinematic trickery Welles, Fuller, and Hitchcock once employed in the realm of psychological thrillers. It's a shame to think that Saul Bass couldn't have provided an iconic opening credit sequence, it would have been a fat, juicy cherry on top. Some of the script material is shlock-Lobotomies! Crashing Thunder! Ted Levine as the Warden!-and some of the material is deeply tramatic-the Dachau flashbacks have a particular brutality for a major Hollywood release.
The genius of Scorsese, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and cameraman Robert Richardson, and Dante Ferrati's sets, and Laeta Kalogridis's adaptation, and finally Robbie Robertson bringing his best for the music supervision (so, so, so good this time around), is all the elements come together seemlessly. This surely could have been an overwrought headslapper, and there is noticable flab in later sections of the film, but Scorsese is a great chef and he wants to feed you something both familiar from his "Cape Fear" period and something strangely new for him, venturing well into the expressionist horror of Wiene's "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". You might even guess the ending as I suspected it to be but the journey there earns the above rating.
The flaws of some moments that might better have been left to the imagination can be overlooked when you come across Dicaprio and Patricia Clarkson making plot revelations sing like a jailbird. If the thrill of that reel wasn't reward enough having Levine, Elias Koteas and Jackie Earle Haley show up to heist scenes feels like a surprise party for lovers of character actors.
Tarantino recenly spoke of the ruefulness that DePalma had felt towards Scorsese as "Raging Bull" was coming out and Tarantino might now understand that same feeling-Martin Scorsese is still very much Martin Scorsese. In regard to Dicaprio, who is both painting himself into a corner with these ulcerous roles and still managing to find new pockets of mental despair, he's wonderfully growing into the next James Cagney minus the dancing chops. As I once looked forward to Scorsese and DeNiro teaming up I now wait with anticipation for more work from one of the last remaining Maestros and his star performer.
In closing, you should get your ass to the cinema.