Review: Shutter Island

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[Film Review]

Leonardo DiCaprio has been Martin Scorcese’s favorite leading man in recent years, starring in Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004) and The Departed (2006), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture while simultaneously finally landing the legendary director an elusive Oscar.

Unfortunately, the pair’s latest collaboration, Shutter Island, fails to measure up to their last, for it simply peters out after
establishing a very promising premise.

The movie was adapted from the best seller of the same name by Dennis Lehane, the New England novelist known for his Boston-based murder mysteries like Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Shutter Island, by contrast, is a psychological thriller set in 1954 off the coast of Massachusetts at Ashecliffe Mental Hospital for the Criminally-Insane.

As the film unfolds, we’re introduced to Federal Marshals Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they head by ferry to the high-security facility to help handle a crisis situation. This deliberately-paced opening tableau is rather evocative of the Gothic horror genre, atmospherically, as the boat slowly breaks through a thick mist to reveal the eerie specter of an imposing edifice sitting high atop the tiny isle, ala the fog-shrouded mansion or castle of so many classic haunted house flicks.

The two lawmen are met at the dock by Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch) who insists over their objections that in accordance with proper protocol they must surrender their weapons before being allowed onto the grounds, whose high walls and electrified fence make the place look more like a prison than a hospital. The tension is then ratcheted a notch higher when they are directed to the office of Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who explains exactly why they’ve been summoned there.

A patient named Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) somehow escaped from her locked cell the night before, and she could be hiding anywhere on the island. The deranged woman is considered extremely dangerous, since she was committed for the deliberate drowning of her own three children.

In the wake of the briefing, a hurricane hits the island which quite conveniently not only knocks out all the electricity but prevents any further ferry service to the now totally-isolated institution. Of course, this only serves to make increasingly-uncomfortable Teddy and Chuck’s frantic search for the murderess even more urgent.

I’m guessing that this scintillating setup probably reads like an appealing edge-of-the-seat thriller. Not so fast, Kimosabe, for I dare not divulge any of the ensuing, unpredictable developments which turn a compelling whodunit into a surreal and patently preposterous mindbender.

Suffice to say that in the end this critic felt cheated to have the complicated mystery resolved by a rabbit-out-of-the-hat revelation that had little to do with the misleading series of red herrings that I’d invest over two hours in.

The cinematic equivalent of a bait and switch scam.
Fair (1.5 stars). Rated R for profanity, nudity and disturbing violence. Running time: 138 Minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures

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