On paper Shutter Island sounds like a complete winner: Martin Scorcese (The King of Comedy) directing a Dennis Lehane (Gone, Baby, Gone) adaptation staring Leonardo DiCaprio (Gangs of New York), a perfect follow-up to Scorcese’s last picture, The Departed, which also starred DiCaprio and was also set in Massachusetts. The film is also being billed as Scorcese’s first horror film, but like his version of Cape Fear, this is really more a thriller with horrific elements than a horror film. The story is somewhat difficult to talk about without giving its twists away, but the set-up may prompt you to guess the ending in any case. DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall assigned to go to Shutter Island, a high security asylum in the Boston Harbor Islands. A patient is missing and Daniels, along with his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo, View From the Top), must find her-seemingly in spite of the strangely reticent staff and security, headed up by Dr. Crawley (Ben Kingsley, Without a Clue), Dr. Naehring (Max Von Sydow, Strange Brew), the seldom-seen Warden (Ted Levine, Silence of the Lambs) and Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch, Zodiac). The patient, Rachel, drowned her three children but is in a state of denial and believes the facility is the small town in New Hampshire where she lived, and the staff various visitors. She disappeared from her room without a trace, and a storm is moving in fast. To top it all off, Daniels has demons (his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams, Halloween H20), died in a fire) and an agenda of his own. Can Daniels solve the mystery of what is going on at Shutter Island before he loses his own mind-or falls victim to whatever is going on there?
While the mystery’s solution is not particularly original, there is enough going on to distract you from the solution and even persuade you that it is something else, at least for a time. The performances are quite good-with a cast like this it is hard for them not to be. Kingsley could play Dr. Loomis in a future remake of Halloween, and the others play their roles perfectly, including Patricia Clarkson (Wendigo), Emily Mortimer (The 51st State), Elias Koteas (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Jackie Earle Hayley (Maniac Cop 3) who play some of the patients Daniels meets in the course of his investigation. The film is beautiful to look at, with a few stand-out jump scenes and tension at times, but the pacing is definitely a bit off and too much of that tension dissipates over successive revelations and overlong run time. Cutting a few of the twists would give the final one more impact, although it’s a twist that is really hard to believe if you think about it too long after the film is over-so many things would need to go perfectly well for it to work. Ultimately this is a very well made and acted film of a mediocre script, with a twist that was undoubtedly more fresh when the Lehane wrote the book.