Leonardo Di Caprio’s ‘Shutter Island’, directed by Martin Scorsese, is yet another masterpiece by the taskmaster. A remarkable high-wire act, performed without a net and exploiting all the accumulated skills of a consummate artist, the film dazzles and provokes.
The movie is certainly worth a watch as it keeps you in its grip from the opening scene. It`s a nerve-twisting, tension-jammed exercise in pure paranoia, and possibly Scorsese`s most commercial film yet.
With a top cast hitting their marks, ‘Island’ sure looks like a Box-Office winner. The film’s screenplay is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, whose blue-collar crime novels have been turned into such movies as ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘Mystic River’. But this story clearly derives from memories and images of old movies – from 1950s Gothic mysteries and Cold War-era paranoia thrillers to 1960s movies cranked out by the Roger Corman factory (where Scorsese once toiled), especially its Edgar Allan Poe/Vincent Price chillers.
As for the story line, ‘Shutter Island’ is an isolated island with howling weather, mad scientists, an ex-Nazi, tough cops, deranged patients and a penal hospital with crowded, filthy cells and corridors stretching forever – possibly beyond sanity.
The Island houses a hospital for the criminally insane. One female psychopathic patient has gone missing, incredibly, from a locked room within the fearsome-looking Ashecliffe Hospital. A hurricane is approaching. The guards and psychiatrists then greet the lawmen with hostility and evasions. Everything screams, ‘Go back!’
In 1954, two US marshals – Teddy (Scorsese`s go-to star, Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) -- watch the forbidding fortress that is Shutter Island loom larger and larger as their ferry approaches the island`s only dock.
Teddy gradually warms up to his partner enough to take him into his confidence: He asked for this assignment. Unresolved issues await him on Shutter Island. His nightmares vividly underscore these past traumas. They involve his platoon liberating a concentration camp and witnessing its horrors. They involve the death of his wife and a former Shutter Island prisoner who talked to him about devastating medical experiments and funding by anti-Soviet groups.
In fact, maybe these aren`t nightmares at all. During daytime, Teddy experiences flashbacks and the presence of the dead, especially his late wife (Michelle Williams) and a little girl from the camp who asks, “Why didn`t you save me?"
The hospital`s pipe-smoking chief psychiatrist, Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley), preaches the humane treatment of patients. (He won`t use the word ‘prisoner’) But his fellow shrink with a German accent (Max von Sydow) reminds Teddy of the dark side of the medical profession he encountered in the camp.
When the storm hits, chaos reigns. Trees crash into buildings, electrical outages free prisoners, all communication with the mainland is cut off, and the two marshals are as much prisoners as the patients. The story barrels forward into encounters with an escaped prisoner (Patricia Clarkson) hiding on the island and another prisoner (Jackie Earle Haley) who has been severely beaten. Then, suddenly, the escaped female killer (Emily Mortimer) is found -- just like that. Teddy isn`t buying it.
The problem, of course, is that the viewer is in the same boat. Are Teddy`s nightmares and ghosts the result of something the warden has slipped into his drink? Are any of these encounters real? The big reveal, when it does happen, might be yet another fraud.
Rating: In all 3 cheers for this one.
(With Reuters inputs)