Thu 12 Jul 2012
Islands are terrific settings for thrillers. We know it from our own cinematographic experience, and we know we are in claustrophobic territory from the very first scene of this film, with the Shutter Island somewhere out of Boston in the mid-50s appearing in the mist under the gray oppressing skies. In Polanski‘s Ghost Writter or in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the first series of Millennium there was a bridge to connect the island with the continent, here there is no bridge and a storm will soon cut any connection with solid ground and any way for the characters to get back to the safety of their routine existence. If there is one.
There are a lot of Hitchcock quotes in this film of Martin Scorsese, we almost may characterize it as a Hitchcock film directed by Scorsese. The setting of the film in the 50s reminds immediately the great films of the master of the suspense from that period, and the main character, a US marshal sent to investigate the impossible disappearance of a patient in a special asylum, where criminals are treated for insanity using modern psychoanalytic methods behaves for a while as one of these Hitchcock heroes whose sanity is placed under doubt, but we know that it is not them but the world around that became crazy, and tries to pull him into its lack of sanity. Is this the case here? Leonardo DiCaprio plays the lead role, I am no fan of his, but I confess to have liked immensely his acting here. In a film where nothing is really what seems to be, where the reality and terms of reference change slowly to be completely swapped by the end, his solid but very nuanced acting is critical and sustains the film from start to end. DiCaprio is present in every scene in the film, because what we see is what he sees, and what he feels starts to infuse into us viewers as the film progresses. His perception of reality becomes ours, his flashbacks bring his past under our eyes, his visions and nightmares end by hunting us.
There are many beautiful scenes in this film, ideas, shots, dialogs that are all memorable. Acting from actors like Ben Kingsley or Max Von Sydow as two of the psychiatrists in the prison-asylum is positioning their characters against the evolution (or is it an involution) of the hero in search of the truth, which becomes a search of his own identity. If I am to explain why I was not completely happy with this film I would maybe blame its duration, the rule of ‘way over two hours’ which seems to have been legislated in Hollywood lately applies here as well, with no clear benefit. It’s maybe a way to say – this is a serious and heavy movie- but there is no need to have said it in this case because the film is serious and catching and the final is hard to forget anyway. Less is better, here is another rule which could have applied. Scorsese makes great films, they need not be excessively long also.