Bumped from its original release date of October 2009 (earlier that year, the film's advance pedigree may have been one of the reasons why the Academy optimistically increased its number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten), Scorsese's latest is a freakshow thriller set in 1954 where an obviously disturbed young Federal Marshall (Leonardo DiCaprio) is sent to a remote Massachusetts island that houses the criminally insane, in order to solve the mystery of a missing patient.
Shutter Island is a star-studded affair with a few tense moments and a tortuous storyline (courtesy of Dennis Lehane's novel) that doesn't zig and zag so much as it simply spirals, slowly and deliberately, into madness. This pacing is significant, as the story relies on a twist that you will either guess within the first few minutes or not until the last half hour. Fortunately, the film doesn't wait until the very end to show its hand, which suggests that Scorsese and company were never interested in delivering a Sixth Sense-style shocker in the first place. (We're tipped off early that things are not what they seem – not only by DiCaprio's goatee, which would have been taboo for a Federal Marshall in 1954, but by his partner, played by Mark Ruffalo, who insists in the very first scene that he's from Seattle even though his accent is, like DiCaprio's, clearly Bostonian.)
It's safe to say that if you have seen The Shining, Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor, or especially the somewhat obscure 1980 nuthouse drama The Ninth Configuration, you will find yourself in familiar psychic territory here. Shutter Island is an interesting and ultimately quite sad movie, but it's likely to divide audiences between those who find it a success and those who find it a failure. As for me, I think Scorsese succeeded in doing what he set out to do, but I am a little bored by stories that are mostly about what's going on inside the main character's head. Their plots are often fake-outs, not usually leaving the viewer with much to chew on afterward.
Still, Shutter Island is a handsome, professional production, with top-drawer talent across the board, as you'd expect from a Scorsese outing. It's not enjoyable, but it is engaging. Though what I find most impressive is its soundtrack, which consists entirely of pre-existing music (common for a Scorsese film), but with such a consistency to it that I could have sworn an actual composer was hired to score the picture.