By Adam Roche
Of course, Martin Scorsese has done genre thrillers before, most notably ‘Cape Fear’ back in the 90’s, but I must admit to being rather perplexed by his decision to direct ‘Shutter Island’. After all, he’s now an Oscar winning director (at long last), and his output in recent years has leaned more towards a director interested in drama and biopics, than someone willing to indulge their inner fanboy on a throwback to their formative influences.
This, of course, is the beauty of Scorsese’s legacy thus far. Defying convention since the beginning, he has arguably produced the most diverse and consistent body of work of any living director. So although his decision to direct ‘Shutter Island’ is a surprising one, it isn’t altogether unbelievable.
‘Shutter Island’ is the story of Ashecliffe, a hospital for the criminally insane containing 66 patients, located on the eponymous island. When one of it’s patients, a multiple murderer called Rachel Solando goes missing, US Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are assigned the case. They arrive to find a seemingly impossible mystery, and worse, an apparent conspiracy involving illegal experimentation and communism. Soon, Teddy begins to experience horrific hallucinations which include his wife, who was murdered several years before by an arsonist who may or may not be on the island amongst the patients. When it becomes apparent that the doctors are hiding evidence of a 67th patient, Teddy begins to suspect that the patients are not the only prisoners of Shutter Island…
The story is complete hogwash, but it’s rollicking good fun, gothic and intense, with every ingredient present; the malevolent hurricane sweeping the island, the lone lighthouse on a rock, the dank corridors of the asylum itself, and of course, the wacko collection of gawping loons that inhabit its cells. You want sinister, you got it. Ben Kingsley (in a welcome return to form) almost steals the show as the eerily serene Dr Cawley, along with Max Von Sydow as Dr Naehring, the grinning surgeon whose past may be in conflict with Teddy’s own.
Of course, he has cast Leonardo “The Frown” DiCaprio again. It’s all well and good to have a muse, but it’s becoming a little overdone now. Seeing that this is DiCaprio’s fourth outing for Scorsese in 8 years, it’s becoming a little difficult to accept him in these roles. True, he’s a wonderfully gifted actor, but with little diversity in the roles he’s taking, it’s becoming almost a foregone conclusion that he will be putting on the moody, unhappy, intense performance that is fast becoming his stock in trade. Perhaps with Scorsese’s upcoming projects (biopics of Frank Sinatra and Theodore Roosevelt) Scorsese should bite the bullet and cast around for someone else, or at least someone inbetween. Even when DeNiro was Scorsese’s golden boy there were breaks. Plus, the roles were far more diverse. Put Rupert Pupkin against Jake LaMotta and the contrast is blinding. That said, this is by far DiCaprio’s most accomplished performance for Scorsese yet. Within the space of the film’s two hour running time, he goes convincingly from freshly confident to rabid confusion. By the film’s close it’s hard to believe that this was once Jack from Titanic.
Where the film does fall down is in its middle section, which does seem to sag and groan under the weight of its intentions. After a brisk, mysterious opening, we are suddenly stranded with a few confusing flashbacks and hallucinations. Whilst they definitely add to the feeling of dread (one in particular being almost reminiscent of ‘The Shining’) they are not given any context till later in the film, and so initially come across as a little indulgent. That said, the film does reward the patient viewer with revelation upon revelation in the film’s final hour, building up to a frenetic climax that will hijack the complacent viewer like crazy.
There is no doubt that this was an odd choice for Scorsese, but after having watched it, it’s not hard to see why he chose it. Sometimes we all need to stop being serious and do something mad. To quote Henry Hill: “Those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day, and worried about their bills, were dead. I mean they were suckers”. If Martin Scorsese wants to direct a schlock-thriller every ten years, then at least we can be thankful that it’s something as much fun as ‘Shutter Island’. It seems that blowing off steam is a good thing.
After all if you don’t, you might just end up losing your mind.
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