January 1, 2010 -- Shutter Island is billed as a thriller, but there are no thrills to be had. Instead, it just sinks inexorably down toward a dark destination. Although not as pointless and depressing as “Jacob's Ladder” or William Golding's novel “Pincher Martin,” there is definitely a similar feeling here that one is going nowhere slowly on Shutter Island. Eventually, you get to the point where you wish it would hurry up and end, but also dread that ending because you know it will be a depressing one.
Renowned director Martin Scorcese plies the usual suspense film mechanisms, but there is no real suspense to be found here, only the hollow trappings of suspense. The music is overly loud and ominous at times (the musical director is one of Scorcese's friends, Robbie Robertson). There are some startling edits and abrupt sounds, a hurricane, dangerous cliffs, a creepy mental hospital, mysterious characters and a conspiracy theory to explain it all. Scorcese uses these props, and a series of flashbacks to a Nazi concentration camp to build a very ominous mood. These things are like a Steven King story, but without the usual supernatural or science fiction themes.
Frequent Scorcese muse Leonardo DiCaprio (“Catch Me if You Can”) plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshal assigned with partner Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo of “Reservation Road”) to locate a missing woman on Shutter Island, a facility for the criminally insane. As the story unspools, we find out that Teddy Daniels has hidden motives for his trip to the island involving the death of his wife in a fire at the hands of one of the patients on the island. Daniels also reveals a story involving secret government funding of experiments on patients at the island, unsanctioned drug trials and other conspiracies. The plot becomes increasingly murky until the end when all is revealed.
The plot is clever, using misdirection and trickery to obscure what is really happening. The plot is also believable, which makes it somewhat of a rarity these days. Unfortunately, despite clever writing and all of Scorcese's cinematic tricks, this film is not engrossing, compelling or entertaining. It is a slick, but hollow exercise in genre filmmaking. It is a film in need of more compelling and sympathetic characters, or in need of a more compelling story with more of a point to it. This is the kind of film that leaves you with an empty feeling at the end. It isn't a bad film, but it is not satisfying, either. It rates a C+.
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