A federal marshal investigates an island madhouse.
Great-looking and initially intriguing, but ultimately a contrived muddle.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams
Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island," set in 1954, looks like the cover of a crime-fiction magazine from that year and reads like a story you might find inside. It opens with U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, played with feverish intensity by Leonardo DiCaprio, vomiting into a ship's toilet and muttering in a tight-jawed Boston accent:
"Pull yaself togetha, Teddy! It's just watta. A lotta watta."
DiCaprio, mimicking Cagney and Bogart and sucking down more Lucky Strikes than both combined, is only one of the earsplitting notes in this high-pitched thriller about an Alcatraz-like prison for the criminally insane. Villains grin, bodies burn, faces bleed and the orchestra plays madly enough to bust its tuxedo buttons - and that's just the first 20 minutes.
The story begins promisingly: Teddy and his partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, gingerly avoiding his feral scene-mate), are searching for a missing patient. The island's smirking overseer, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley, wonderful) is so unhelpful that Teddy suspects a cover-up. But Teddy isn't exactly thinking clearly: The island has not only triggered his World War II flashbacks but revived his dead wife (Michelle Williams).
"Shutter Island" seems to be channeling Stanley Kubrick: Several shots echo the fearful symmetry of "The Shining," while the score relies on classical and symphonic composers, notably Gyorgy Ligeti, who dominated "2001: A Space Odyssey." It's a case of one master borrowing too liberally from another, though Robert Richardson's cinematography is creepily evocative.
The script, based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel, descends so quickly into psychobabble and contrivances that it's barely surprising when that old plot-gimmick, the anagram, finally appears. In the end, "Shutter Island" - or is it "Thrusted Nails?" - feels as mixed-up as its denizens.