In Martin Scorcese’s latest, “Shutter Island”, Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a federal agent sent to an offshore asylum to investigate the disappearance of an inmate, a young woman who was put away after drowning her three young children. Before you can say, “Don’t visit Ward C!” — which happens to be where the dank facility’s most dangerous criminals are housed — DiCaprio’s character is not only wandering around the aforementioned area (in official prison garb, no less), but he’s also suffering from flashbacks and hallucinations that are turning him into a sweaty, wild-eyed mess: everything from haunting visions of his wife, who perished in a blaze set by a neighbor, to harrowing recollections of his visit to Dachau while serving in World War II (the film is set in the early 1950s).
For most of the movie — even as he’s trying to shake off the effects of these horrifying, mind-bending episodes — he’s also trying to solve the mystery: What DID happen to the woman? How could she have wandered off, past all the doctors and attendants and guards? And why do the doctors in charge of the place (ably played by Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow) appear to be so intent on stonewalling him?
Ah, if only the answers didn’t turn out to be so predictable (we’ll leave it at that — there’ll be no spoilers here); and if only Scorcese didn’t take so long (in excess of two hours) to reveal them. The whole thing looked a tad too artsy as well, with one dream sequence featuring black ash falling on DiCaprio and his doomed wife like coal-colored confetti, and another treating us to the incongruous sight of reams of paper swirling about a doctor’s office like hundreds of frightened birds. DiCaprio is fine as an Everyman at the end of a very short and very frayed rope — and, in a much smaller role, Mark Ruffalo does yeoman-like work as his partner… but “Shutter Island” isn’t DiCaprio’s movie, or Ruffalo’s, or Kingsley’s or von Sydow’s — it’s Scorcese’s, from first overloaded frame to the last.
But is the movie scary, at least? Well, let’s put it this way: when a film is set in a looney bin, and the scares are as scarce and the jolts as infrequent as they are here, then there’s something wrong. Scorcese had a chance to make a truly frightening picture, and settled for a mostly engrossing, but ultimately plodding and disappointing one, instead.
Bottom line: visit “Shutter Island” if you like — just don’t expect to lose any sleep over it.
The stuff of nightmares it’s not.
FILM REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien