Martin Scorsese has made so many movies that have defined the watching (and making) styles of so many people that there is no denying his place in the all-time hall of fame of filmmakers.
That being said, his latest movie Shutter Island is proof of one simple fact -- there is more peril in boundless choices than there is in working with limitations.
The movie is based on a book by noted author Dennis Lehane. I am unfamiliar with the text so I have no idea how faithful the movie is to the book but that is unimportant because the motion picture has to stand on its own as an individual piece of entertainment.
Another cinematic pairing of the influential director with Leonardo DiCaprio could, in theory, produce excellence of the type that even the casual moviegoer is more than capable of appreciating. These two men have come together a few times before with decidedly mixed results and as time goes by Shutter Island will definitely fall on the side of the movies that didn't work. Here is why.
DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a U S Marshall who is headed to Shutter Island, an Alcatraz-like facility where a team of doctors, nurses and orderlies watches over a number of criminally-inclined, mentally-unstable people. Marshall Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are brought in to investigate the disappearance of an inmate.
When they arrive they are greeted by Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who explains the situation and proceeds to be excessively cryptic and creepy about even the most mundane goings-on in the place. I understand that this is essential to the further unraveling of the plot but it is surprising to watch it all unfold as if this was a first film for most involved.
Needless to say things begin to make less and less sense for the leading man as time passes and matters are not helped much by the fact that he is periodically visited by visions of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams).
If you have watched the trailers for this movie you probably know how all of this plays out. Even the allusion to other similar films will ruin the 'surprise' or quickly confirm your worst fears so I will avoid making the connections for you.
DiCaprio and Ruffalo are competent (as usual), but that is it. The rest of the cast either has too little to do or they choose to do very little with the parts given to them. Ben Kingsley in particular really needs to tone down the wild-eyed performances because he seems stuck in a version of the character he played in Sexy Beast.
Shutter Island is a disappointment on many levels. Other directors have made far better versions of this tale. That this is a Martin Scorsese film starring Leonardo DiCaprio makes it worse. Tales like this do not benefit from a big budget approach and from the glaring commissions and omissions that exist throughout the film it is clear that the storytellers chose to gloss over any discrepancies by blaming it on the nature of the story itself.
This is a movie only for Scorsese completists -- people who must watch everything made by the master director. The rest of us can hope that his next offering delivers the goods in a way that only the man with the bushy eyebrows really can.