SHUTTER ISLAND (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2010)
"You act like insanity is catching", federal Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) quips to the Deputy Warden (John Carroll Lynch) while being shown the grounds of Shutter Island, the contained electronically secure mental hospital for the criminally insane.
It's a welcome one-liner as the introductory build-up to DiCaprio and his new partner Mark Ruffalo's entry is one of the most overwrought openers in Martin Scorsese's career. The score pounds in an over the top progression of fearful crescendos as the men enter the complex.
Once the uber-melodramatic music eases off we are led inside to meet and greet Dr. Cawley (the always ominous Ben Kingsley) and the premise: a female patient has gone missing and the facility is on lock-down. Kingsley cryptically explains: "We don't know how she got out of her room. It's as if she evaporated, straight through the walls."
With a stern look that keeps his worry brow constantly a-worryin', DiCaprio, still using his Boston accent from THE DEPARTED, has another agenda. 2 years ago his wife (Michelle Williams) died in a house fire and he believes the pyro-culprit is a patient hidden somewhere at the hospital. A World War II vet (the year is 1954), DiCaprio is also full of conspiracy theories about secret experiments and mind torture going down at the hospital - the presence of a German doctor played by Max von Sydow particularly sets him off - as hallucinatory visions of his wife and the horrors he experienced at war haunt him around the clock.
Based on Dennis Lahane's bestselling 2003 novel, SHUTTER ISLAND has a supremely effective first half. The second half falters because I believe many folks will see the end coming from miles away - I actually had an inkling of the conclusion when seeing the trailer months ago. The reveal is wrapped in exposition and once DiCaprio and the audience figures it all out, the film lingers too long.
However this doesn't completely ruin the movie. The dream/flashback/whatever sequences are beautifully shot recalling David Lynch's surreal palette.
DiCaprio's visions always have something falling and floating in the air around him. File papers, snow, and ashes fill the screen along with DiCaprio's angst. It's not the best film that DiCaprio and Scorsese have made together in their decade long collaboration (that would be THE DEPARTED), but it has a lot of strong searing imagery going for it, even if the narrative isn't as layered as it would like to be.
Acting-wise, it's Leo's show. Despite the solid supporting cast (including Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Hayley, and Ted Levine), Dicaprio carries the movie spending considerable chunks of the film alone with his demons. By this point, his 4th film under Scorsese's direction, he's not just an actor going through the motions; he's an embedded yet impassioned piece of the scenery.
By comparison Ruffalo comes off like he's playing a gumshoe in a Saturday Night Live sketch. So it's half a great movie - half is an absorbingly creepy character study, half a formula thriller frightening close to well trodden M. Night Shyamalan territory.
But half a great Scorsese movie is still a vital movie-going experience, you understand?
When speaking of Scorsese in an interview a few years ago, Quentin Tarantino said: "I'm in my church, praying to my god and he's in his church, praying to his. There was a time when we were in the same church - I miss that. I don't want to do that church."
In one of SHUTTER ISLAND's most powerful shots, Scorsese mounts a DiCaprio Dachau death camp recollection that blows everything in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS away. Sorry Quentin, but Marty's is the church I want to attend.