★ ★ ★ ☆
Shutter Island was a good film that could easily have been excellent. Though the film was based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, Scorsese attempted to pattern the film after Orson Welles' adaptation of The Trial. Unfortunately, the latter influence was undermined by the former. It felt as though Scorsese was attempting to stitch together two different movies.
Scorsese did an excellent job of creating a claustrophobic feeling on Shutter Island. There is only one way out, we're told, and and only by ferry. The camera was generally focused in from the characters perspective, and was always moving. It always felt like it was drawing the characters, and the audience towards some unspeakable horror. This was especially well done in the scenes inside the prison.
The oppressive grip of the island was broken in two different ways. First, there were a series of dreams that Teddy (DiCaprio) had about his dead wife, largely set within the walls of the prison. This did somewhat reduce the immediacy of the dangers lurking in the island, but did contribute to the back story. A second set of dreams went much further towards breaking the spell of the island. These dreams were centered upon dreams about Teddy's experiences in the war. These were very problematic. By transporting us through time and space, Scorsese not only slowed down the pace of the present storyline, but also eased the oppressiveness of the island. The Kafkaesque atmosphere that Scorsese ultimately fell prey to the heavy handed screenplay that is to be expected from an adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel. We were constantly given more information than we needed, and the pacing suffered.
Aside from structural issues, Shutter Island was technically sound. Excellent performances all around, and the cinematography should nab Robert Richardson an Oscar nod. With DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, and Mark Ruffalo playing major roles, it should be no surprise that the acting was spot on. Though far from perfect, Shutter Island is one of the year's first must see movies.