Shutter Island is what you get when you throw in two cups of pulp fiction, one cup of identity bending thriller, a spoonful of psychological drama and a seasoning of Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese. By all accounts it should have been an unpalatable mess of a film. Towards the end I even started to believe that was the case, as the innumerable twists and turns piled up ever higher – to the verge of insanity. Yet in the final act a single sentence gives the much needed emotional edge to this fractured film and thus elevates the entire experience a notch.
You may have noticed that this is a rather elusive summary. That’s because talking of the plot behind Shutter Island is pointless without giving away its major twists, which would be doing a disservice to the readers. Suffice to say its set in post WWII US, on a small island whose most prominent feature is an insane asylum. A dangerous inmate has escaped, and U.S. Marshal Edward Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is tasked with catching her.
The setup and execution have a very pulpy feel which in the hands of an accomplished director like Scorsese feels fresh and intriguing. Genre wise, Shutter Island evolves from a typical crime thriller, to an intensely psychological one with a horror slant and culminates in a shift to pure drama. The transitions feel off putting, and only make sense in retrospect which is probably why Shutter Island has polarized the critics so much. They also drain much of the emotion from the storyline, as the viewer struggles to catch up and rationalize the 180 degree turns of the plot.
While the plot has its weak moments, the direction manages to build up and retain an almost palpable tension that keeps one glued to the screen through the almost two and half hours of running time. Coupled with a well chosen cast, and a fitting soundtrack Shutter Island is a very pleasant experience – something that sadly can’t be said for the recent crop of Hollywood films. That said Shutter Island is not destined to be a classic. It relies too heavily on an effective ending twist, and I suspect will not stand up to many repeat viewings. Also, it has the misfortune of being made by the director of films like “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”, with which it cannot truly compare but judged on its own – it’s quite good.