Shutter Island

Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow
Dir. Martin Scorsese

I have to confess, I just don’t like Leonardo DiCaprio. He’s one of those actors who never puts his acting mask on straight and you can still see him underneath the character he’s playing. He’s at it again in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and when you’re surrounded by the likes of Ben Kinglsey, Max von Sydow and Mark Ruffalo, you’re on a hiding to nothing. (I wouldn’t put him in the same idiots league as Keanu Reeves though. There’s an actor who isn’t convincing even when he’s being himself.)

shutter island

In Shutter Island U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) shows up with his colleague Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) to investigate a missing woman. This isn’t just a top security asylum, it’s a hell on earth surrounded by all kinds of conspiratorial rumours: mind control, psychological experiments, strange operations, most of which centre around a mysterious lighthouse. Scorsese builds up the paranoia and eeriness with a lot of incredible photography, the storm of storms threatening to blow the whole lot down, and the head of the asylum, a terse and initially obstructive Dr. Cawley (Kingsley).

As Daniels thinks he’s getting closer to the truth we learn he’s also looking for a lunatic arsonist responsible for the fire that burned down Daniels’ apartment, killing his wife in the process. His memories of liberating a concentration camp are not helped by the presence of Dr. Naehring (von Sydow), an even less sympathetic, possibly ex-Nazi colleague of Dr. Cawley. The plot tightens, the tension builds and a mesmerising mix of red herrings and symbolic distractions come at you from all angles at a breathless pace until the whole shocking truth is revealed.

And it’s a revelation I can’t tell you because the twist is what the whole film hangs on, from the moment we first see Daniels spewing up on the crossing to Shutter Island to the final conversations before the closing credits. There’s a lot of internet speculation on film forums about Scorsese’s message and intentions. It’s a film with a satisfying if disturbing split personality; part psychological thriller, part mind-game to see if you’re paying attention.

For me the stand out performance is Mark Ruffalo. If his face looks familiar it’s because he plays Bruce Banner before he turns green in the Avengers. Ruffalo is an underrated actor and he reminds me of Irrfan Khan, the Indian actor who also brings an understated power to his performances. Ruffalo’s quiet, patient way of acting carries so much weight in every scene he’s in and the likes of DiCaprio could learn a lot from studying his method.

To appreciate Shutter Island you probably need to watch it twice, the second time to distinguish what is real or not. And even then you might not be truly informed, which is not a criticism, but an endorsement of a film that does genuinely intrigue and entertain like the best of illusionists.


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