‘Someone is missing’ the ominous tagline succinctly informs us, but the developments that unfold in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island aren’t nearly as simple as that. Adapted from Dennis Lehane’s immersing and compelling 2003 novel, the film follows Detective Teddy Daniel’s attempts to find a missing mental patient. His search soon brings him face to face with uncomfortable truths as he slowly begins to uncover more than he could have ever bargained for.
Leonardo Dicaprio returns to sea (this time rather more successfully than his stint in its murky depths in Titanic) to get to the offshore Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane (which, by the by, looks about as inviting as it sounds). Along with his partner Chuck he must uncover the secrets behind the mysterious escape of Rachel Solando. Suffering the onslaught of a catastrophic storm whilst offering more questions than clues, the island leads his investigations off the beaten track and Teddy soon finds himself journeying instead toward self discovery. As he slowly loses his marbles we begin to wonder whether they were ever his to lose…
Set in post-war 1954, conspiracies and paranoia abound. Heightened by insanity’s presence on the island, the feeling of unease is captured perfectly by Scorsese. The choppy use of editing along with some decidedly naff cinema tricks may not be to everyone’s taste but all help to question the reality of what we’re watching making for intriguing viewing. The imposing score adds to the unease whilst the film’s darkness adds to the depressive feeling of the island.
Support comes in the guise of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Gandhi (Sir Ben Kingsley) (but, maybe disappointingly, not as their afore-mentioned characters). Ruffalo’s Chuck provides Teddy with an amiable sidekick whilst Kingsley’s Dr. Cawley just misses the mark; instead of being the mysterious smooth doctor of the novel, Cawley is made here to appear almost ruffled at times. Michelle Williams is served with very few lines as as Teddy’s dead wife Dolores.
Although Scorsese’s Shutter Island is extremely faithful to its source it begins to meander half way through, losing focus where it should be tightest. This said, the perfect portrayal of the island itself acts as testament to Lehane’s prowess with the written word. Due to the chaotic jumble that is Teddy’s memories, those who haven’t read the book may feel out of their depth at first but the pay-off comes in the film’s final moments.
Unquestionably the film’s highlight is its ending. Hinted at throughout, Shutter Island‘s finale is reminiscent of other great cinematic endings, Fight Club and Inception included. Comparisons to DiCaprio’s other 2010 blockbuster don’t end there given both films use of dreams, mysterious wives and ambiguous endings.
Shutter Island‘s plot devices are captivating and manage to keep the audience engaged despite the lack of concrete answers throughout the first 90% of the film. Will Teddy ever leave the island now that he’s set foot there? Just what is going on in the lighthouse? And who exactly is number 67? Keep tuned in and you might just find out…
Best line: ‘Sanity’s not a choice’
Best performance: DiCaprio as Daniels.
Best song: Dinah Washinington’s This Bitter Earth provides a haunting finale.
Watch this if you liked: Inception, The Departed.