Review in a Hurry: Martin Scorsese strands Leonardo DiCaprio with a bad Boston accent on a creepy island in the '50s, looking for an escaped mental patient and finding more than he bargained for. What could have been a great horror premise is woefully mishandled by a self-indulgence that's as subtle as a Jake LaMotta punch to the face.
The Bigger Picture: Although Shutter Island opens with DiCaprio on a boat, it's the movie that sinks this time. He plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. federal marshal—or, as he says it, "maaashal"—heading to an island in Boston harbor upon which an old Civil War fort has become the centerpiece of a lunatic asylum.
Together with new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), he's there to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a female inmate named Rachel Solando, who, we are told, drowned her three children and has since refused to believe she's anywhere but her own living room.
But as the BOOM-BOOM-BOOM of the soundtrack, and permanently gray sky clue us in, it becomes apparent that something more menacing is afoot. The year is 1954, which is important primarily because this story would not work if modern phone-lines and helicopters existed. It also gives us some groan-inducing social commentary about the then-radical new idea that medications can treat the mentally ill (Get it? It's ironic because nowadays we over-medicate!).
Things are amiss on the island, where the doctors, creepily played by Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow, seem to harbor a sinister hidden agenda. But they're also amiss in Teddy's head. We learn in short order that he was present for the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, and his flashbacks to these moments are the only truly horrific parts of the film.
But then he starts having vivid dreams about his dead wife (Michelle Williams) who, much like a video-game tutorial character, frequently offers on-point hints as to the solving of the mystery at hand.
Scorsese, and Paramount, appear to have simply thrown as much money at each scene as possible, which makes for some fancy sets, but delivers almost no atmosphere of the sort one would hope. The asylum never feels realistic, even by horror-movie standards, but rather like an expensive Broadway musical version of one. Similarly, Teddy's hallucinations frequently look like movie special effects in a way that real visions rarely tend to.
The story has some surprises, but if you've seen the trailer, chances are you've guessed them already. Even more unfortunate is just how bad DiCaprio is here, delivering a performance that feels like he's constantly digging you in the ribs and going, "I'm emoting! Check it out! Tears! See? See?"
Dennis Lehane's novel seems to have the potential for a good adaptation, but Scorsese's version isn't it: sadly, this Shutter bugs.
The 180—a Second Opinion: If you're going to go see it anyway, try to avoid reading the cast list on the poster, or IMDB. The movie's main joy lies in the way familiar faces pop up at unexpected moments. And for goodness sake, avoid watching the trailer if you can!
See what movies we're looking forward to in our Movies From the Future gallery!