Shutter Island is the kind of movie I really want to love. For starters, it's a Martin Scorsese picture, a seal of approval I've been happy to view since I was a kid. It's got some great actors- Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Ted Levine and Max Von Sydow. Hell, it's even got the guy that played Drew Carey's cross-dressing brother and the main suspect in Zodiac. It's got an interesting look, a great location, intense atmosphere, and a labyrinthine plot based on a critically acclaimed novel. It should, for all intents and purposes, be a great film.
Except I've seen it already.
I won't spoil anything here in this review, so don't worry, but I had the twist pegged from the minute I saw the first trailer. I spent months trying to forget the conclusion I came to, and the first 15 minutes of the film hoping that I was wrong, but once the first critical clue was revealed, I spent the next 2 hours hoping it didn't turn out the way I expected. But it did.I can't name the films that Shutter Island reminds me of, as that would probably give away the twist, but I will say that all of them predate Lehane's novel, so I can hardly say that the movie has more authenticity because it's based on a text of true originality, and that the film version simply came too late. No, that's not the case. Nor am I accusing Lehane of cribbing from those other works, but the basic plot, save the part about a US Marshall investigating the disappearance of a crazed murderess from an insane asylum that's housed on a craggy island off the coast of Boston, is one that's been used a lot recently.
I know, I know. Those of you who haven't seen the movie are already scratching your heads. Maybe those of you who have seen it are nodding in agreement. All I can say for sure is that the ending was telegraphed from the get-go, and that tarnished my enjoyment of the entire piece.
It's a real shame, because there are so many things to like in Shutter Island. Performance-wise, Leonardo DiCaprio lends unwavering conviction to Teddy Daniels, while Ben Kingsley is suitably elusive. My favorite character moment in the film would have to go to Ted Levine being wonderfully creepy as the little-seen warden of Ashcliffe, who rambles off a few really poetic lines about the human capacity for violence while driving a Jeep and wearing a distinctly Gestapo-like outfit.
The location of Shutter Island is perfect. It's everything it needs to be and more- from the Alcatraz-like vibe of the prison-cells to the lavish house Kingsley's Dr. Cawley occupies. It's filled with lush green woods and black, rocky cliffs, not to mention dank crypts and a creepy lighthouse. Add in hurricane weather and it's a total nightmare.
While Laeta Kalogridis' script is solid, there are some lines I found to be rather cringe-worthy, even when handled by first-class actors, and as mentioned before, when the surprise ending comes, it's less than satisfying. However, reading up on the original novel, it seems this is the same problem the book had, so maybe it's not all Kalogridis' fault. Stories like this look great on paper, but when they're not done perfectly right they can be a little trying, which leads me to the directing.
I love Scorsese's work, but I can admit when he's not up to spec. I can freely admit that I don't think he deserved an Oscar for his work on The Departed (he should have won for Raging Bull, or even Taxi Driver) and I feel the same way about his performance in Shutter Island. It's good, but it's not great. His work now seems to lack the dynamic range and energy of his earlier pieces, almost like he's not as connected to it. You can't say it's due to the source material, because his 1991 remake of Cape Fear was gripping, even though it wasn't up to the same level of awesome as Goodfellas. There's a lot going on in Shutter Island, but it feels a little soft- "Scorsese Light" if you will. The only place where Socrsese's direction really shines is in several intimate conversational scenes and the hypnotic flashbacks to World War II, where we see a young Teddy Daniels killin' Nazis and liberatin' concentration camps.
The music is another point of contention. It's great in certain places, and wildly inappropriate in others. Early on, the music exhibits a relentless, fearsome tone that's rather overbearing as Teddy and Chuck (Ruffalo) arrive at the penitentiary. During a shot of a caravan of jeeps coming to a stop in front of the large steel gates, the music is in full force, booming with lumbering intensity. I understand the need to set the tone right away and hit the ground running with the idea that Ashcliffe is dangerous, but the music became overbearing to the point of hilarity. It was most reminiscent of the Bernard Herman horn theme for Cape Fear coming out of nowhere, shrill and foreboding, like a punch to the face. It's good for entertainment's sake, but I could have done with a little less at the moment.
The editing is rather seamless and does a good job of transporting us from past to present. Everything in the film works as it should, and in theory, I should have been shocked and awed and immediately wanted to watch it again. But, as I mentioned earlier, all Shutter Island did was leave thinking, "well that just happened."
Who knows? Maybe you'll be more enthralled. Truth be told, it's a competent film made by competent people, and is ultimately vastly more interesting and carefully crafted than The Wolfman. I just wished I liked it more.