Shutter Island is essentially Martin Scorsese slumming it. Here, the man referred to as America?s greatest director, blends gothic-horror and B-movie conventions, with a nod to Alfred Hitchcock and Hollywood movies of the 1940s and 50s.
Shutter Island is purposefully frantic, enjoyably creepy and occasionally dazzling. But eventually the story, adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane, becomes so convoluted and clunky that our emotional engagement with the characters wanes.
Shutter Island becomes a somewhat interesting puzzle but not much more.
The year is 1954. Cold War paranoia permeates the air. It?s the time of H-bombs and Senator McCarthy.
Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his partner Chuck, played by Mark Ruffalo, are dispatched to Shutter Island, a prison for the criminally insane. The first scene in the film has Teddy throwing up as a boat ferries him closer to the ominously looming island. We know that it?s going to be a bumpy ride.
A female prisoner, who drowned her three children, has disappeared from a cell with one barred window and a door locked from the outside. Teddy has been called in to investigate.
Like all Scorsese protagonists, he comes with his own share of baggage. His traumatic experiences through World War II haunt him in flashbacks.
Horrific scenes from Nazi concentration camps jolt him awake at night. Of course soon it becomes increasingly apparent that the doctors on the island aren?t telling Teddy the truth. The prisoners he talks to have been coached. One ward remains strictly off-limits. There is also a sinister lighthouse where the secret of Shutter Island might be buried.
For the first hour or so, Scorsese juggles these many strands expertly. He plays us like an organ drumming up our anxiety and claustrophobia.
The performances - especially DiCaprio as the slowly unraveling Teddy - are terrific. So are the visuals.
But as the red herrings pile up and random characters deliver long explanations on what may or may not be transpiring, the game becomes tedious.
Shutter Island clocks in at two hours and eighteen minutes but feels even longer. By the time, this nightmare psychological noir winds up, you?re long past caring about Teddy?s predicament, although the last scene adds a nice twist to the puzzle.
Shutter Island is far from satisfying but it?s always fun to watch a master orchestrating cinematic tricks.