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Screen » Film

Creating Ghosts: Migraines, hurricanes and insanity mix for a warped psychological mystery in Shutter Island

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Martin Scorsese was my favorite filmmaker for at least two decades. It was not until the Dicaprio era kicked off with Gangs of New York and the Aviator that I started to lose faith. Not to blame Leo so much (as most do), he isn't such a bad actor. But with Shutter Island comes near redemption - it's almost a good flick.

Based on Dennis Lehane's (Mystic River) novel, Shutter Island takes place in 1954 at an insane asylum/correctional compound on an island in the middle of the Boston Harbor that specializes in the containment and care of the most dangerous criminally insane. It's a fortress of abstract terror, surrounded by cliffs on all sides. U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo Dicaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) ride a ferry out to investigate the disappearance of a patient. What begins as a simple missing person investigation slowly morphs into full-on psychological horror. As more disturbing revelations come to pass, the stress starts eating away at Daniels' nerves. It revives his alcoholic past while creating parallels with Nazi science experiments and death camps.

While the vanished-patient theory contains a zillion holes, the investigation leads through mazes of misperceptions and questionable realities. There's a Kafkaesque genius to the madness as reality and sanity come into question allowing Daniels' dreams to overtake reality. The overblown metaphor for the storm that envelops the island is a bit too obvious, but when the marshals' rain-soaked civvies are replaced by white patient uniforms we begin to question what's real.

Shutter Island calls to mind a slew of different movies, but perhaps most closely resembles Sam Fuller's asylum classic, Shock Corridor. Shutter's dream sequences rival those of The Shining. There's also an A-bomb threat, Cold War feel of Manchurian Candidate or Experiment in Terror lurking about and at times Scorsese reverts back to his Roger Corman years when he served as an editor for the prolific B-movie director.

Despite all the high-tech Hitchcockian finesse, Scorsese plays it safe. When in similar narrative territory with Cape Fear, Scorsese inventively employed dizzying camera work and shock cuts. Here the frenetic camerawork is gone. While the tricks are intact, Scorsese offers them softly.

Island has a who's who cast that shines even in bit parts. Dicaprio brings to mind Jack Nicholson's J.J. Gittes in Chinatown with his anguish and agitated outbursts. Ben Kingsley as hospital Chief Dr. Cawley is mesmerizing as an evasive weirdo. Ruffalo does a good turn in the sidekick cop role. Max Von Sydow (Dr. Naehring) is perfectly cheery and diabolical. As the warden, Ted Levine steals the show with a monologue about eating people that rivals his transvestite dance number in Silence of the Lambs.

I was waiting for the big Taxi Driver-type freak out, but this is a more subdued and restrained Scorsese. Fear not, though, this one will make you think.

Shutter Island

★★★1/2✩

Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated R

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