Martin Scorsese movies are rightly cinematic events onto themselves. Long recognised as a master of his craft, 'Shutter Island' sees Scorsese in the somewhat unfamiliar territory of a Gothic-horror thriller, for want of a better description. The good news is he doesn’t do too badly.
It’s 1954, and the Cold War has been heating up for a while. The Red Threat looms large, and the A-bomb could drop at any moment. US Marshal Teddy (Di Caprio) and his new partner Chuck (Ruffalo) are assigned to investigate the disappearance of prisoner Rachel Solando (Mortimer) at the rather foreboding and inhospitable hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Island. The island was built during the American civil war and is home to only the most insane and violent offenders. Run by Dr John Cawley (Kingsley), the hospital, or so we are told, tries to give mental patients the dignity they deserve and treat them for their conditions.
The more questions Teddy and Chuck ask however, the fewer answers they get. The terrain of the island makes escape virtually impossible, but Rachel seems simply to have vanished into thin air. Patients tell them to get out while they can, while doctors stonewall their requests for information. Teddy is a tortured soul at the best of times, haunted by the liberation of a Nazi concentration camp and the murder of his wife (Williams). His wife’s killer, Andrew Laeddis (Koteas), is also on the island. Teddy knows this because he met him previously, and was told about macabre experiments performed on the prisoners, all supposedly in aid of scientific progress and getting ahead of the commies.
The action Teddy saw in World War Two and the recurring dreams of his dead wife, are both played out in visually-stunning sequences. Things however, start to unravel very quickly as he begins to lose his, and so too the audience’s, grasp on reality. There’s a lot going on here, as crosses, and double-crosses are hinted at. Teddy begins to worry about the food he’s been given, the cigarettes he’s been smoking. Even though the story may appear to be going one way, perceptions constantly change to leave you struggling to keep up with events.
This is the fourth movie Scorsese has worked on with DiCaprio and the partnership remains true to form. DiCaprio turns in a storming performance, scaling heights last seen in 'The Departed'. With Teddy's hallucinations and recurring nightmares tearing him apart, DiCaprio more than manages to convey all facets of his breakdown.
However, part of the problem of Shutter Island lies with the effects it sets out to achieve. With perceptions constantly shifting, it becomes harder to engage with the film. A visual treat and atmospherically charged - unfortunately there may be too many sleights of hand from Scorsese for some to fully enjoy. It’s a film you'll want to see again, and one I'll hazard makes a lot more sense on second viewing.
These are small gripes though, as horror-thrillers of this calibre - ones that make you stop and think - are rare enough. A great director, his favourite protégé and a fascinating story all combine to make Shutter Island well worth the price of admission.