It's easy to get all riled up over the latest Martin Scorsese film starring his recent favourite actor of choice, Leonardo DiCaprio. After all, the destination is something of a big wool pulled over your eye, but as the saying goes, it's never the destination but the journey itself, and Scorsese pulls off a mighty fine psychological thriller whose horrific elements aren't what we get from the trailer with its chop-socky boo-moments, but were a lot more cerebral, tying in very closely with the entire feel of the film.
In some ways, Scorsese helmed this film to Hitchcockian proportions, and constructed a tight mystery thriller which to my surprise, still had a lot going despite one knowing how it would end, either being a reader of the novel by Dennis Lehane (which I am not), or through the many clues that simply pepper the film from start to finish. There were some jarring moments which I thought pared down to bad editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, or wondered if Scorsese was being very slipshod in bridging cut scenes or continuity laced with perturbing errors, but all these were played out for a reason, and by the time the final reel unspools, the dust will settle.
Which I felt was perfect in getting you under the skin of DiCaprio's Teddy Daniels, a US Federal Marshal assigned to the titular Shutter Island which houses a mental institution for the criminally insane, because one of the inmates, or patients as Chief Psychiatrist Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley) insists they are called, have simply vanished through the walls, and a search has been deemed futile. Together with new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), the federal marshals soon stumble upon an uncooperative lot in the facility, coupled with the usual crazies who play on your mind with their various testimonies.
And to make it a wee bit complex, there's a brewing hurricane that prevents our cops from leaving, Teddy's visions of his dead wife coming back to haunt him, and a growing conspiracy that involves inhumane experiments that those in power allow to happen clandestinely to be performed for the advancement of neuroscience, and to create almost zombie-like perfect killers/soldiers ala The Manchurian Candidate. As mentioned, the narrative sucks you in and keeps you engaged, though some parts because they can get repetitive (remember, it's all for a reason), may hang you out to dry if you're not paying close attention.
DiCaprio has grown from strength to strength as an actor, and frankly, he almost single-handedly made this film work. Without his charismatic presence and fine performance, many elements presented in Shutter Island may not be pulled off successfully, since it relied heavily on the actor playing Teddy Daniels to really show a vast range of ability, and more importantly, to make you feel for him totally in his predicament to dig deep and discover just what hanky-panky is going on in the island, while haunted by many ghosts from the past. There were some physical scenes which were obvious a stuntman had taken over, but no substitutes can be used for his dramatic moments of course.
The supporting cast also put up a commanding performance, from Ben Kingsley and Mark Ruffalo, to Max con Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer and Jackie Earle Haley. Talk about a star-studded casting against a very gritty and scary backdrop, boosted by very nifty special effects when the narrative calls for it. And for those who prefer their horror in old fashioned terms, there are, in my opinion, eerie images enough to shock and make your goosebumps stand, thanks to anticipation being build, plus the actual deliverables that gave me the creeps.
So climb onboard the ferry to Shutter Island, and allow the latest Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle to bring you on a slow brewing mystery ride that straddles the fine line between fantasy and reality, complete with plenty of discussions on the mind and sanity check. Incidentally, the next DiCaprio film out later this Summer, also deals with the cerebral, and helmed by Christopher Nolan. Now that is something I want to see, but in the meantime, an excursion to Shutter Island is recommended.