April issue 2010

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 14 years ago

Martin Scorsese’s movies can be hard to rate. As one of the finest directors of the modern era, it is tempting to grade his films on a curve. By that standard, Shutter Island is not one of his finest efforts. But even a medicore movie by Scorcese’s standards is one of the best movies of the year.

Leonardo DiCaprio firmly establishes himself as Scorsese’s muse, taking over the lofty position previously held by Robert DeNiro, by starring in his fourth movie with the director. In a way, he is reprising the same role he played in The Departed. DiCaprio is a cop with a Bostonian accent who is summoned to the titular Shutter Island, a high-security compound that houses criminals who have been declared insane, after a young women mysteriously disappears. Mark Ruffalo co-stars as DiCaprio’s partner.

A deep mystery lies at the heart of Shutter Island: how can a frail women simply walk out of a locked cell and escape a fortress that rivals Gitmo for security? The answer, it seems, lies with Ben Kingsley. A combination of Dr Strangelove and Dr Frankenstein, Kingsley seems to be treating the facility, which he has set up himself, as his personal playground where he can experiment on the patients at will.

As a cat-and-mouse game between Kingsley and DiCaprio ensues, Shutter Island morphs from what initially seemed like a crime drama into a psychological drama. The tension is palpable throughout and plenty of gasp-inducing twists abound.

Unlike the very best Scorsese psychological thrillers — Cape Fear would be the best example — many of Shutter Island’s thrills do not pay off. There are plenty of red herrings and a lot of the heat and light simply fizzles out. The extensive use of flashbacks, shot in bright technicolor to distinguish it from present-day events, is meant to illuminate the characters’ motivations but is only relevant about half the time.

Still, Shutter Island is well-acted, gripping, and as with all Scorsese movies, very stylish. Flaws aside, that alone is enough to make it a worthy addition to the Scorsese canon.

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.