“You boys seem a little on edge,” offers Leonardo DiCaprio to the cops guarding an island of the damned—a mental institution. Now, the amateur sleuth in you might take this as a clue. Hmm. That, or the Transylvanian fog, ridiculous even for Boston. Or the tug captain who actually says, “Storm’s coming!” Comfort surely doesn’t arrive in the form of spooky Ben Kingsley, as the residing headshrinker; Max von Sydow, never a jocund presence, isn’t far behind. It’s all what the experts call dramatic foreshadowing—if by that, they mean a century’s worth of chimney soot.
Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island isn’t subtle. It’s a ’50s-set thriller that wears its craft like a cloak with the collar up. Fans of the director’s wicked rethink of Cape Fear (1991) will insist he’s done this before and expertly. But whereas that movie played to Scorsese’s class-conscious strengths, this one plunges us deep into loony-bin territory. (It’s Scor-crazy.) A violent patient is on the loose and our marshal heroes, Teddy (DiCaprio) and Chuck (Ruffalo), offer pursuit, stubbornly racing around the island as the wind whips. But already, the histrionic style gives away too much.
If the material, adapted by Laeta Kalogridis from Dennis Lehane’s slippery novel, disappoints, you can still count on Scorsese for punch. So many of his famous sequences are charged with a dream logic—indeed, the whole of After Hours—that when he finally allows himself to make proper nightmares, they blow you away. Teddy’s dead wife haunts him in vivid color and scenes of falling ash. (She perished in a fire.) There are swirling papers and flashbacks to Dachau, of all places. Still, coming from Scorsese, Shutter Island is slumming: minor but enjoyably nuts.—Joshua Rothkopf
See also The Hot Seat
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