Shutter Island (15)

Schlock and little awe from Marty

Reviewed,Anthony Quinn
Friday 12 March 2010 01:00

Having laid the Oscar ghost with his win for The Departed, Martin Scorsese could have allowed himself to relax.

Instead he's gone and made one of the most hysterical films of his career, a B-movie schlocker that hurries through dungeons and dark chambers like some hapless innocent in a Gothic novel. Just listen to the way its orchestral score rises to a giddy crescendo of terror – in the first five minutes.

The ominous mood is set from scene one. It's 1954, and US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is fighting seasick on a ferry with his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), headed for a mental asylum on a craggy redoubt called Shutter Island. They are to investigate the disappearance of a woman inmate who, like many in this institution, has been put away for murder. Teddy's freaked out by the mad-eyed patients ("the ones no other hospital can manage") and he doesn't much care for the men in charge, either – Ben Kingsley as Dr Cawley (as in creepy) and Max von Sydow as Dr Naehring (as in possible former Nazi scientist). Soon the air is thick with rumours of neurological experiments, psychotropic drugs and lobotomies, and with rainstorms of hurricane strength blowing in, Teddy starts to wonder if people who arrive on Shutter Island ever get to leave...

Now Scorsese is someone who understands, better than any film-maker, how drama thrives on the collision between reality and psychosis. His name, after all, is indelibly associated with Taxi Driver, the great New York nocturne about a soul coming apart at the seams. Like Travis Bickle, Teddy is a war veteran who can't shake off the ghosts – in his case, the memory of what he saw when his unit helped to liberate Dachau in 1945. But there's another trauma (from ancient Greek, "wound") that won't heal: the death of Teddy's wife at the hands of an arsonist, himself now an inmate on the island. So perhaps we can add revenge to the plot's gamey cauldron of intrigue and cover-up.

Yet for all the narrative sleight-of-hand and misdirection, Shutter Island has a problem that never afflicted Taxi Driver: it's just not exciting. Perhaps something was lost in the adaptation from Dennis Lehane's novel, but whether you guess what's "really" going on or not, the scene-by-scene experience of the movie never pins you back in your seat. It's more like a later entry in the Scorsese canon, his remake of Cape Fear, where the camerawork climbed the walls but left our senses quite untroubled. There's also a weird reprise of De Niro's gnarled bogeyman in the visage of Jackie Earle Haley, offering a forlorn cry from the ranks of the criminally insane. Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer and Michelle Williams are all wasted in nugatory roles. As for the role of director, it has been filled rather than graced, a state of affairs that would be perfectly fine if you didn't know that the director's name was Martin Scorsese.

Just as Marty keeps returning to Leo, Paul Greengrass has reunited with his Bourne star Matt Damon in Green Zone. It's an offshoot of Rajiv Chandrasekaran's prize-winning book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, a sombre account of how the US screwed up the handling of post-invasion Iraq, and, in the wake of the Chilcot Inquiry, a rather timely one. Damon plays warrant officer Roy Miller, who, handed one bum steer after another on the whereabouts of those legendary WMD, is beginning to think that their "intel" is, in a word, "bullshit". The Pentagon's official line – touted by bureaucrat Greg Kinnear – insists that the weapons are out there, and makes much of a source, codename "Magellan", that will justify their invasion.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments