By John P. McCarthy
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Martin Scorsese’s prolix psychological thriller “Shutter Island” (Paramount) takes place in 1954 and follows U.S. Marshal Ted Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his brand-new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to a storm-swept island in Boston Harbor, home to a hospital for the criminally insane.
The officers have been assigned to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a patient-cum-prisoner who persists in denying she drowned her three children.
From the outset, Daniels is haunted by visions of his late wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), who died in a fire in their apartment, as well as by flashbacks to his experience liberating the Dachau concentration camp while he was a soldier during World War II.
Housed in three wards, one of which was a Civil War fort, Ashecliffe Hospital is run by the bemused Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), assisted by the menacingly urbane Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow) and a large staff of orderlies and other medical personnel. A warden and a full contingent of armed guards oversee the craggy island, an ideal location for a federal prison. No one appears particularly keen to help Daniels and Aule with their investigation.
As violent weather approaches, the institution becomes the venue for much elaborately staged hysterics born of trauma and guilt. The pervasive sense of paranoia Scorsese generates is undercut by a certain turgid quality.
Even more damaging to the movie’s entertainment value is the unrelenting use of coarse language, which, together with certain elements vital to the plot, necessitates the O classification. Not only does the language offend and detract from the artistic impact, it is arguably anachronistic.
Adapted from a Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River”) novel, “Shutter Island” skirts around topics related to justice and revenge. In particular, it labors to ask how society ought to treat those who have committed heinous acts in various contexts.
Ultimately, the picture amounts to a genre exercise for Scorsese — an opportunity to dabble in a mid-20th-century brand of straitjacket melodrama, replete with hallucinatory sequences and riddled with sinister subtext. It also affords DiCaprio (using a thick Boston accent) and other respectable actors the chance to declaim vulgar dialogue in service of an overblown mystery.
The film contains pervasive rough, crude and crass language; frequent profanity; a number of sexual references and discussions of violent acts; many potentially disturbing images of corpses in a concentration camp setting and in connection with an act of infanticide; a number of fairly graphic episodes of gun violence; and an instance of partially obscured frontal male nudity. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
McCarthy is a guest reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film & Broadcasting.