At the 2010 Golden Globes ceremony, Martin Scorsese was honoured with a life-time achievement award for his contribution to film. Despite many subpar outings on his part, he had created a diverse back catalogue that few could revival, yet he took this opportunity to sell us “Shutter Island”, his soon to be released thriller amounting to his fourth outing with Leonardo DiCaprio. The dramatic irony of this is palpable with it being perhaps his greatest misstep and worst movie overall, colouring an otherwise career-defining moment with the question of his very relevance.
U.S Marshall Edward “Teddy” Daniels (DiCaprio) is sent in 1954 to investigate the disappearance of a patient at the famous titular hospital for the criminally insane with his recently assigned partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). Teddy has trouble getting to the root of the problem when those in charge, such as Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) do not seem forthcoming with the truth, leading to many unexplained occurrences, including the ghost of his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) materializing before his eyes as he slowly looses grip on reality.
Scorsese revels in his direction here, a fact that is to be feared more than marveled at. Working off a script from Laeta Kalogridis, the woman responsible for such gibberish as “Pathfinder” and “Alexander”, pacing is a predominant issue, the piece lacking any at all. We are led to believe that this is to add suspense and tension but the needless repetition of facts and ideas is so deliberate, it’s nigh on impossible not to discern the ending from the moment it begins. This is not helped by a style of writing so infantile, there is little room for foreshadowing or subtle development. I was told that the ending would rectify my confusion but it was such a well-worn idea, having been used ad nauseum in a plethora of science fictions shows and movies that I couldn’t help but feel cheated. When Jonathan Frakes did it better in less than an hour and a much smaller budget, you’re in a lot of trouble.
Poor stylization of the piece, with the painted, superimposed backgrounds and choice of music may have elsewhere evoked the films of the period in which this is set but viewed as an end product, serves to heighten the divide between modern techniques that are more effective and the directors general lack of restraint in tailoring it into a uniform and coherent vision.
Jarring us even further is the fractured and poor editing techniques employed to illustrate the degradation of Teddy’s personal identity. Old techniques abound but are used with such frequency, they go beyond mere stylized flares, amounting to yet another redundant repetition.
DiCaprio and the cast overall are entirely miscast, none fitting into their respective role with any degree of comfort. Each of them blindly lurch forward, feeling their way through the piece without any apparent idea of where they are going or where they will end up. One could argue that the plot calls for fear, anger and everything else in between but in such volume and no apparent reason for them, it comes off as laughable at best. Patricia Clarkson’s cameo roughly half way through is the only real moment of concerted acting and even that is too brief in a film that runs over 2 hours long.
Bloated, incoherent and pointlessly confident, the only thing to worry about here is the piece itself.