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SHUTTER ISLAND (director: Martin Scorsese; screenwriters: Laeta Kalogridis/based on the novel by Dennis Lehane; cinematographer: Robert Richardson; editor: Thelma Schoonmaker; music:Robbie Robertson; cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (Teddy Daniels), Mark Ruffalo (Chuck Aule), Ben Kingsley (Dr. Cawley), Michelle Williams (Dolores), Emily Mortimer (Rachel Solando), Patricia Clarkson (Rachel Solando), Jackie Earle Haley (George Noyce), Max von Sydow (Dr. Naehring); Runtime: 139; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Martin Scorsese/Mike Medavoy/Arnold W. Messer/Bradley J. Fischer; Paramount; 2010)
“A bleak and disturbing psychological puzzler that’s liberally sprinkled with flashbacks.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese‘s (“Taxi Driver“/”Raging Bull“/”Kundun“) overbaked stylishly shot B film thriller, that pins its hopes on succeeding with a questionable surprise ending that will freak you out. It’s a bleak and disturbing psychological puzzler that’s liberally sprinkled with flashbacks to a crime scene in 1952 and the liberation of Dachau in 1945. The claustrophobic setting is an experimental insane asylum for America’s most dangerous patient/inmates, Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, which is located on an isolated windswept island outside of Boston Harbor called Shutter Island. In 1954, we observe two federal marshals, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) and his decorated army veteran boss Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), arrive by ferry to Shutter Island to investigate the escape of a dangerous child killer female prisoner, Rachel Solando, from the asylum. They converse with the menacing smug hospital head, the urbane Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who relays to them that he favors treating patients with more enlightening therapy rather than drugs or lobotomies–the standard treatments at the time. Teddy finds the place to be sinister and he especially finds Cawley’s esteemed German colleague Dr Naehring (Max Von Sydow) to be especially sinister, en-nerving him as he recalls the time he was in an army unit that liberated Dachau and witnessed the Nazi’s cruel medical experiments with the Jewish inmates.

Things get progressively more murky and bewildering the longer the investigation goes on, as a hurricane forces the lawmen to be stuck on the island overnight and Teddy gets severe migraines–indicating not all’s well with him. The twists keep coming as do the flashbacks from the haunted Teddy’s past, as he conjures up the ghost figure of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) and converses with her throughout–explaining he’s really in the asylum, where he trusts no one, to look for the arsonist who burned down their apartment when he was working and she was trapped in the blaze when home alone.

The film slows down too much when the supposed real Rachel Solando (Patricia Clarkson), not the one the staff presented to him (Emily Mortimer) as the captured escaped patient who killed her three children, is discovered by Teddy hiding in a cave and they chatter away for seemingly an eternity. Things then became too incomprehensible, as the puzzler has yet a new twist and loses its mojo and all the explanations to follow left this viewer feeling manipulated. The film’s stronger first half seemed to be somewhat interesting at times but, in the end, the film plays out as an exercise in acting and experimenting with gimmicky film school plotting devices. Nothing that smart is accomplished, but the mad scientist film at least tries to get in the head of the insane and challenges you to question all that you see. It gives the formulaic B film thriller derived from the Cold War paranoia post-war film noir period a makeover from the likes of Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor (1963) and Anatole Litvak’s Snake Pit (1948). The problem is that not all of it worked artistically, as it was a lot of sizzle but little fire.

It’s based on the novel by Dennis Lehane and written by Laeta Kalogridis.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”