Shutter Island
Why can’t you understand my Bahstin accent, Michelle?

Theatrical Release Date: 02/19/2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max Von Sydow, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley

To no one’s surprise, but to some disappointment, director Martin Scorsese has once again tapped Leonardo ‘King of the World’ DiCaprio to star in one of his films. With “Shutter Island”, the “Titanic” wonder has graced now the last four feature films of the acclaimed auteur. While I postulate that Leo’s involvement has done nothing to help shake my ennui regarding Scorsese latest films (the early ones are brilliant, I’m not knocking those), I’m fully aware that I’m not the cinematic genius and that I’ll probably be in the minority on the quality of this one … but that’s cool, if we all thought the same then Ryan Seacrest would run the world.

Back to Scorses and his latest film, it concerns a “duly appointed federal marshall” (DiCaprio) trying to solve the case of a woman in a mental institution who has apparently extricated herself from her handlers. He and his new partner (Mark Ruffalo) travel to Shutter Island and begin to ascertain that everything isn’t quite as it seems. The doctors there (chiefly Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow) are a bit difficult to trust and as the two outsiders dig deeper into the facility’s operations, the audience gets taken through a roller coaster ride of the psychological thriller variety.

In an apparent effort to be oh so clever, the film takes a few twists and turns. None of them are all that original (what is these days) but more annoying is that none of them are unexpected and the choices made are so unrealistic. Now, from what I gather, the screenplay is fairly true to the source novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote “Mystic River” (a film I would prefer over this any day of the week and twice on Tuesday). However, in having to boil this novel down into a feature film (even though this clocks in at 138 minutes) the character development suffers and I’m sure there are a number of passages left on the page that would have made the last twenty minutes a bit more satisfying and easier to go along with.

Moving onto the star of the picture, besides dropping his Boston accent more than Britney Spears drops her kids, Dicaprio also plays the part way over the top. At times, I was reminded of watching young actors trying to play much older, as the character seemed to be someone a bit longer in the tooth, so to speak. All of his posturing and grimacing (someone get him a laxative) seemed more for show than character and I was almost instantly hoping something terrible would happen to him, despite all of the attempts to play up sympathy via his dead wife and the horrors he witnessed while serving overseas in World War II.

What is at first a seemingly odd choice to cast Mark Ruffalo is made clearer by the film’s conclusion (though his interplay with DiCaprio lacked vibrancy). Perhaps my favorite actors though were Kingsley and Von Sydow. When one thinks of casting mysterious psychiatrists, these two probably aren’t far from the top of the list. Each enjoy twisting their figurative mustaches and provided the more interesting foils to DiCaprio’s attempts to discover the truth behind everything.

While I point to the sum of its parts as the reason I found it all to be lacking, one element I can truly decry as unnecessary is the score by composer Robbie Robertson. It was like a bad cross of “Lost” with “Jaws” – completely disjointed and playing up each scene like you’ve never seen anything more dramatic (spoiler, you have).

On the positive side, with this effort Scorsese seems to have returned to a more distinctive visual approach that I haven’t seen since “Bringing Out the Dead”. As there are many hallucinatory/flashback sequences, the opportunity to play with the look and feel of the film was definitely there and he made the most of it. These scenes pop on screen and breathe life and energy into an otherwise somewhat lackluster production.

Though Scorsese fans don’t need or want my opinion concerning the worth of his latest film, if you’re not a die hard follower and don’t enjoy psychological thrillers more full of style than anything else, “Shutter Island” isn’t something you’ll miss seeing. A 2.5 out of 5, while some scenes deliver powerful imagery and symbolism, there are many more that play out like every other film in the genre. And think of it this way, why would the newest film by one of Hollywood’s greatest directors get a late February release date when the current tactic is to release all the really powerful and award generating material at the end of the year? But that’s probably more the cynic in me, so take that query as you will.