Who’s In It: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Elias Koteas
The Basics: U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at the fortress-like Shutter Island, a menacing and wind-blown rock that houses a mental asylum for the criminally insane in the greater Boston area. They’ve come to investigate the seemingly impossible escape of a dangerous inmate, but as Teddy spends more time with the hospital’s suspicious administrators (Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow) and its deranged inhabitants, he begins to suspect that an even greater conspiracy lies beneath the surface… and that he’s being drugged and manipulated. Twists and turns and turns and twists ensue, so much so that somebody actually refers to it all as “Kafkaesque.” Because otherwise it’d all be too subtle.
What’s The Deal: Martin Scorsese is a master of his craft, but Shutter Island, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, feels disappointingly like a minor work. But hey, who says every film has to be a masterpiece? Uber film nerd Scorsese seems to be having a blast with this genre exercise, a thrilling blend of noir and psychological horror that comes infused with more references and homages than most audiences will probably notice. And in Scorsese’s trademark fashion, it’s fantastically stylized, chock full of breathtaking visual flourishes and thematic clues that come together like the pieces of a puzzle once everything in its twisted plot is revealed. But despite its pretty pieces and the plethora of subjects that loosely tie into Teddy Daniels’ storyline (i.e. World War II, the Holocaust, post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, guilt, mid-century psychological practices, and what Michelle Williams would look like if she was on Mad Men), none of this feels particularly important. Unless you’re also an uber-nerd for any of the above themes in Shutter Island (or a student of cinema), its story may not linger long after the final twist has befuddled your brain.
Who’s Excellent: Everyone. Shutter Island’s cast features a who’s who of Actors Who Can Get the Job Done, from Sir Ben Kingsley to Michelle Williams, who manages the film’s most surprisingly complex role. Supporting (yet too-brief) turns by Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas also impress, while Mark Ruffalo is a vision in tweed.
What Marty Could Have Chopped: Sub-sub-plots here and there which only extend the tedious 138 minute runtime without obvious benefit to the film. Shutter Island strings together a series of key scenes and dream sequences that move the plot along, but there’s too much connective tissue in between. How many times must we see the same haunting nightmares play out, in various iterations? We get it, already. Leo is going bananas, whether he’s dreaming of his dead wife dissolving into ash or revisiting memories of a Nazi prison camp for the umpteenth time.