Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer(s): Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane (novel)
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Original Score: Various
Running Time: 138 Mins.
Scorsese’s films have always offered a level of homage to the “classic” era of Hollywood, harking back to genres (gangster), films (Vertigo), directors (Hitchcock), actors (Howard Hughes) of the Golden Age, with Shutter Island the focus shifts away from gangsters, glitz and glamour and casts a beady eye on noir, horror and the work of Hitchcock on a much more celebratory level. Opening to an overt and dramatic score as a boat comes creeping, full of foreboding, out of the fog the stall is set early, atmosphere is the key to Shutter Island and it has it n spades!
Sent to the titular island to uncover a mystery of a missing woman Detective’s Daniels (DiCaprio, in his fourth consecutive Scorsese collaberation) and Aule (Ruffalo) enter a world that is full of intrigue and a strong sense that almost everything they see isn’t as it should be, adding to this heady mix of suspicion are Dr. Cawley (Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Von Sydow) doctors who have opposing ideas on how a mental patient should be cured, one favouring medicinal methods while Naehring, with his links to Nazis, takes the more sadistic physical approach. Met with disruption at every turn of their search the detectives are helped and hindered by all manner of cameo names playing an assorted bunch of crazies, patients and guards alike. But as the story unfurl’s it takes in one twist after another as Daniels has his own personal agenda for taking the case.
To reveal any more of the story would be to spoil the strong sense of foreboding Scorsese masterfully builds, we all know what a good director he is, but operating within the bounds of the genre of horror, for only the second time after Cape Fear, and noir with more than just a little rug-pulling this is literally like a carnival ghost train brought to thrilling life. However there is depth beneath the surface shocks and twisty-turny plot, DiCaprio is as intense as ever lending Daniel’s an air of confusion and fragility beneath the hard-cop persona, and Mark Ruffalo proves the perfect foil, down playing to perfection against his partners intense moments.
Surrounding your leads with this amount and level of supporting talent certainly helps and everyone is cast to a T, Kingsley is a joy to watch and leaves you wanting more while Von Sydow provides suitable Nazi-flavoured menace, but it is in the island itself we find a third lead and what a lead it is, brought to life in a way only a master could achieve the changing landscape of the various parts of the island reflecting what occurring onscreen, with other areas on view in the distance creating at once a yearning for the detectives to venture there and a foreboding sense that they shouldn’t venture any further down the rabbit hole!
Unfortunately everything begins to out-stay its welcome a little as there is a lull at the mid-point where the pace should really pick up, and at times on the open there is a sense that the score, that utilises pieces from various composers, can feel a touch intrusive but after the initial 20 minutes it settles in and, as with the intrusiveness of Cape Fear’s score, adds to the heightened tension, offering much more than cheap jumps in its sudden honking moments it portrays the Daniel’s erratic and confused emotions amidst the haunting dream sequences he experiences, and it is in these we find Scorsese at his most artistic, a true master at work.
As Scorsese tackles noir and horror, much more than pastiche shines through. Shutter Island is as atmospheric and daunting experience as you could hope for, while being swept along by the labyrinthine plot that favours cerebral jolts over cheap shock tactics, a nice surprise in the current era!