Martin Scorsese is revered by cinema geeks like me because of his visionary, character-driven art films like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “The King of Comedy.”
But Scorsese doesn’t just cater to movie nerds. He is every bit as good at making fun, mainstream popcorn flicks that appeal to Hank in Tulsa as opposed to Professor Snobenberg of NYU film school.
Some of the director’s most popular pictures – “Cape Fear,” “Casino,” “Gangs of New York” – are big on entertainment and low on pretension. In fact, the only Scorsese film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, “The Departed,” is perhaps his LEAST substantive movie to date.
“Shutter Island” is one of the biggest box office hits of Scorsese’s career because it delivers exactly what the previews promise and what mainstream audiences want: a good story, a few chills, and a ton of entertainment.
The film is set in 1954. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels: a US Marshall who travels to creepy, isolated Shutter Island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a delusional criminal who murdered her children.
Shutter Island is an independent prison for the criminally insane where forward-thinking Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) seeks to treat his disturbed patients with empathy and therapy rather than beatings and lobotomies.
Or maybe not! The longer Teddy is on Shutter Island, the more he suspects that something sinister is happening. Every employee and patient he interviews is obviously lying to him and seems to have been coached as to what to say.
Teddy begins to think that Dr. Cawley is actually experimenting on his patients as part of a sinister government project to create an army of ruthless, mindless killers to fight the Soviets.
The fact that the prison’s staff won’t let him leave the island further proves that something terrible is happening. Meanwhile, Teddy is haunted by disturbing dreams and upsetting visions of his dead wife and the traumatic events he witnessed as a soldier in World War II.
“Shutter Island” is a simple thriller, nothing more. But it is a darn good one. Scorsese weaves a complex, compelling conspiracy theory while giving the audience subtle hints as to the truth of what is really going on.
This is a successful picture in every sense. The story is interesting and well-crafted and I was fully entertained from start to finish.
After the painful and boring experience of watching “Avatar,” I was frightened to return to a regular, non-art house theater. “Shutter Island” reminded me that mainstream popcorn flicks can be great, too! Thanks again, Mr. Scorsese.