Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max Von Sydow, Ted Levine
Plot: A US Marshall (Di Caprio) investigates the disappearance of a mental patient from an infamous asylum.
Few mystery thrillers are quite as powerful as Shutter Island. It is a love letter to the Noir genre, directed by the masterful Martin Scorsese. The trademarks are there from the opening scene. Two detectives are on a boat, fog shrouding their journey. Di Caprio and Ruffalo are dressed the part, tuxes and hats pulled right out of the classics of old. There is a thrilling mystery to solve too. The two Marshalls are being sent to an asylum, where they are tasked with finding a dangerous mental patient who disappeared overnight, somehow breaking out of her locked prison cell and disappearing somewhere on the island. As Teddy Daniels begins asking the usual questions, it becomes very clear that the asylum might not be kosher. Ben Kingsley is the Head of the Hospital and with his dry humour and evasive answers is a firm suspect for a man covering up some experiments that could be inflicted on the patients. Is Teddy investigating a disappearance or a murder? Scorsese plots out his mystery with the skills of a director who has been doing this all of his life. The drama, tension… even horror… is all there. Shutter Island is the kind of movie that doesn’t trip on any part of its conception. A near faultless piece of film-making.
Of course, we can’t talk about a Di Caprio movie without bringing up the acting. Leonardo Di Caprio is one of the finest actors around right now, perhaps up there with the all-time greatest. He throws his entire body into any role given to him and Teddy Daniels is quite the role. At first glance, it looks like a classic Noir hero. Handsome, brooding, methodical when it comes to unpicking a conspiracy. Leonardo furrows his brow and does his best intense frown, snapping his dialogue and keeping the exposition ticking over. Even on cruise, he is fun to watch. Then things start getting edgier. Scorsese embraces the thriller elements and begins playing with the psychological side of his mystery movie. Cue several flashbacks to either a World War II POW camp, where Di Caprio is forced to relive some gruelling images or a serene family life, miles away from anything else the movie gives us. The fun is trying to figure out what it all means. As Teddy’s psychological state falls apart, Di Caprio’s performance becomes more focused. It is fascinating watching the actor plunge deeper and deeper into the quivering wreck of a detective, shaking and twitching his way through the film. You wish that Di Caprio would try his hand at more horrors, because he really works for the part. As we lost sight of the charming hero from the start of the movie, we get terrified for the character, just as horrified as the hero at the chilling atmosphere Scorsese conjures. It is a shame that Scorsese isn’t prepared to class Shutter Island as a horror, purposefully missing out on a good selection of jump scares. The closest thing we get to a decent payoff is one fantastic cameo which sees one Scorsese legend pass on the torch to Di Caprio as the new Scorsese muse.
And that twist! God, it is a creature of beauty. As Shutter Island descends further into the absurd, the usual cautionary feelings swim to the forefront of your mind. The reveal is rarely as satisfying as the pay-off. Critics have accused Shutter Island of starting off as one movie but descending into something quite different. That much is true, but if you can wrap your mind around the answer to the riddle created by Scorsese, you will find yourself amazed at the brilliance of the writing. A second watch isn’t just recommended, it is demanded. Suddenly every beat, every minute piece of acting or direction, is a precise clue at the final answer. It feels so obvious, yet we never had a clue. An amazing piece of story-telling. Potentially my favourite Scorsese.
Final Verdict: A dazzling Neo-Noir boasting an intelligent script and a dazzling performance from Di Caprio.