Directed by Martin Scorsese
At the beginning, Shutter Island oozes with creepiness. Unfortunately, even the esteemed Martin Scorsese can't quite keep the mojo going from first frame to last, but the end result is still worth a look.
Those opening scenes are great. Fog horns blare. Cigarettes smolder. Psychotic inmates smile sweetly while tending the grounds of Ashecliffe Hospital, an insane asylum on stormy, isolated Shutter Island, located off the Massachusetts coast. Leonardo DiCaprio sports a fedora. It's 1954. Nazis are in the rearview mirror and communists have taken the spotlight. It all smacks of classic Scorsese and hopes rise for a fantastic finale.
DiCaprio, in his fourth outing with Scorsese, nails his role as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels. He's requested to be assigned to this nuthouse case and he has his own motivations to dig into the real goings-on at the hospital. A veteran of World War II, he helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp. Incensed by the Nazi's science experiments on human beings, Teddy's got his reasons to believe similar evil is taking place right off the East Coast. Besides that, the arsonist who killed his wife at one point was sent to Shutter Island and he wants to track him down.
For a chat.
But the case at hand involves an inmate who disappeared from her locked cell without a trace. She's a dangerous one all right; she drowned her three children then set them up like dolls at the dinner table while she dined.
So, for Teddy, the overt mission is to find Rachel, the missing woman. The covert mission is to blow the lid off the experimental madness being conducted in the island's lighthouse. And also have that chat.
Originally scheduled for release last October, Shutter Island is a classic "coulda." It coulda been great, instead it's just pretty darn good.
Maybe Scorsese doesn't feel the need to keep things edgy and tight now that he's won an Oscar (for The Departed, most definitely a sub-prime Scorsese; good, not great). Since then, he's made Shine a Light (a docu-concert about the Rolling Stones) and a short flick.
Now Shutter Island.
Check out the cast: DiCaprio, Max von Sydow, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams. Heck. That assemblage alone is worth the price of admission.
And Scorsese's working with a story by Dennis Lehane, the author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone.
Throw in a lot of money to buy some impressive visual effects and there's simply no reason why this shouldn't be a great flick.
But it isn't.
Kingsley, Ruffalo, DiCaprio go film noir
Photo: Paramount Pictures
Amid all the freaky characters, the weirdest thing about Shutter Island is that the opening is more haunting than the finale.
And it's a long slog in between, with Scorsese unable to find the right balance between the opening funhouse creepiness and the starkly serious theme of human brutality.
Maybe it's the overindulgence, a la Quentin Tarantino, of striking visuals for the sake of striking visuals. Most glaring are scenes in which papers endlessly flutter through the air while a bloody Nazi lies dying at Teddy's feet. But there are also stunningly emotional scenes, like the one in which Teddy, during a dream, embraces his lost love, only to have her dissolve into a pile of ashes.
It's not that Shutter Island falls apart at the finale; everything ties together and makes sense. Perhaps too much sense, given the insane surroundings. It's simply that, for all the promise of something cool and refreshingly different, Shutter Island ends on a disappointingly familiar note.
It's the kind of ending that screams out for one more jolt, one last twist. Instead, it ends with a relative whimper. And whimpers don't haunt.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.