Saying this might make me seem insane, but Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island bored me silly. Having loved Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name (read my review here), I thought I’d at least enjoy the movie, maybe not as much as the book, since that rarely happens. Last thing I expected was to be sitting in the dark, rolling my eyeballs back and nodding off as if I’d been given too much Thorazine.
In 1954, U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are summoned to Ashecliffe, an institution for the criminally insane on an island off Boston Habor, to locate a missing patient, Rachel Solando. The woman seemingly escaped without shoes (island terrain is rocky) or anyone seeing her, from a room locked from the outside. The staff’s and marshals’ search efforts are hampered by a hurricane which shuts down the island’s electrical system, allowing all 66 violent offenders to run wild. But wait. Solando left behind a note implying there’s a 67th patient. Who is this mysterious person whose existence everyone denies?
And that’s just one of the island’s mysteries. Daniels and Aule soon wonder if the doctors at Ashecliffe are really treating their patients or doing illegal experiments on them. Daniels also has his own agenda for being there: He’s searching for his wife’s killer, Andrew Laeddis. The plot has more twists and turns than an Olympics slalom, culminating in a twist which may or may not shock you, depending on whether or not you read the book or are an especially astute viewer.
The cast is very good here. The intense DiCaprio and laid-back Ruffalo balance each other nicely; Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Cawley with a cool presence which keeps you guessing about his true intentions; Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson turn in notable performances as patients. (Michelle Williams, as Daniels’s deceased wife, doesn’t have much to do until the end.)
But the actors are failed by the movie’s sedate pacing. With this kind of (literally) crazy plot, the thriller should be more, well, thrilling. Instead, lots of long expositional scenes and dream sequences slow down the momentum, and characters meant to be creepy become less so when they linger on screen for too long talking too much.
Scorsese also heightens every scene with a lot of DRAMA: the hammering Bernard Herrmann-esque score, the artsy slo-mo and overly saturated colors in the dream sequences, twisty camera angles, lots of water imagery. It’s like announcing Creepy Scene Alert! at every turn, which takes away any surprise that might lie around the corner.
One might argue there are no surprises for people who have read the book. All I can say is, I also knew what would happen in Scorsese’s last movie, The Departed (having seen the original Hong Kong version Infernal Affairs), and still found it to be quite suspenseful. The director should have trusted his source material here; a leaner, less heavy-handed approach would have allowed the story’s creepiness to crawl under our skin.
Nerd verdict: More wreck than treasure on this Island
All photos © Paramount Pictures/Andrew Cooper