Plot wise: it's 1954 and U.S. Marshall Edward Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Ashecliff Hospital on Shutter Island to investigate the impossible disappearance of patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer). From the moment they set foot on the island, Daniels and Aule find themselves trapped in an ever more constricting vacuum of total isolation exacerbated by presiding psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley's (Ben Kingsley) rather nonchalant lack of compliance to provide Daniels with Rachel's medical records and patient history.
As the narrative unfolds, Cawley and Dr. Naehring (Max Von Sidow) subtle refusals appear more as maniacal taunts that gradually drive Daniels, first to distraction, then obsession to unravel the mystery behind Rachel's vanishing act. Resigning from the case, Daniels and Aule's trip back to the mainland is delayed by a hurricane, forcing Daniels to reconsider his options. What is revealed to Daniels by Cawley is that Rachel has been locked away for some time after drowning her three children.
In flashback, we learn that Daniels was one of the liberators of the concentration camps at Dachau. Haunted by those horrific images from the war and by strange nightmares about his late wife, Dolores Chanal (Michelle Williams), who died in an apartment fire two years earlier, Daniels persists in scouring the craggy moors of Shutter Island for clues about Rachel's disappearance; another dead end when Daniels is told by Cawley that his star witness, Rachel's psychiatrist Dr. Sheehan, has departed the isle for an extended vacation.
From here, the narrative begins to unravel quickly. Daniels tells Aule that his real reason for taking on the case at Ashecliff is to learn the whereabouts of Andrew Laeddis, the man Daniels believes is responsible for starting the fire that killed Dolores. Daniels further informs Aule that on the mainland he met George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley), a former Ashecliff patient who told Daniels about horrific lobotomizing experiments being conducted at the hospital.
A fake Rachel miraculously reappears and mistakes Daniels for the husband she lost in WWII. During a power outage, Daniels discovers Noyce locked in a dank cell inside the bowels of maximum security Ward C where Noyce informs Daniels that the entire weekend is a rouse designed to keep him on the island forever. This suspicion is confirmed by the real Rachel Solando (Patricia Clarkson) who confides in Daniels that she was once a doctor at Ashecliff. After learning about the lobotomizing experiments done at the lighthouse, she was declared insane and committed to the institution as a patient by Cawley.
Now more determined than ever, Daniels makes a harrowing trek to the lighthouse but finds Cawley waiting there to intercept him with the truth; that Daniel is actually Andrew Laeddis, who murdered his manic depressive wife after she killed their three children. Chuck, who in reality is Dr. Sheehan, has agreed to play along with Andrew's belief that he is Daniels in an experimental therapy that both he and Cawley had hoped would cure Laeddis of his hallucinations, thereby sparing him the gruesome remedy of having a lobotomy.
After suffering a complete breakdown Andrew seems to come through the experiment with a renewed sense of clarity that is not to last. He later refers to Sheehan once again as Chuck, indicating that the therapy has failed. As Andrew is lead away, presumably to have his lobotomy, he questions whether it is better to live as a monster or die as a good man. Thus ends Shutter Island on a note of self-destruction befitting a flawed hero of Greek tragedy.
The central shortcoming of the film is not immediately inherent in either the film's content or its foreboding stylistic delivery - both holding up considerably well. What is absent from the exercise however is that overriding sense of doom and shock necessary to elevate Shutter Island beyond mere conventional thriller status.
As an audience, we've seen all this done before. The hero who is really the antithesis of his character is a plot device more recently and more successfully deployed in movies like The Sixth Sense (1999) and The Others (2001). Because of those precursors, it's not enough to give the audience on this outing a plot twist at the end debunking the two and a half hours that have gone before it. Hence, what we are left with in Shutter Island is the quality of performance to sustain our interests as Daniels goes through the machinations of discovering the truth about himself.
DiCaprio - an actor this reviewer has never held in high esteem - does an adequate job herein, but he still seems far too young (at least in face) and insufficiently jaded to be believed as the careworn and emotionally scarred vet who has truly lost his mind. Kingsley and Von Sidow are, of course, time honored professionals in their craft, both delving deep into character and coming out on top at every turn. Ruffalo, Clarkson and Williams add what they can to this lugubriously menacing mélange with sustained sparks of their own brilliance. Thanks primarily to Scorsese's stylish direction, the final outcome of Shutter Island may fall short of expectations, though never without formidable artistic merit.
Paramount Home Video's Blu-Ray offering is stunning. The image throughout exhibits a richly saturated color palette. The stylized picture elements pop with renewed sharpness, clarity and pitch perfect color balancing. Flesh tones exhibit an astonishing amount of fine detail as does the rest of the image. Even during the darkest scenes, minute visual information is present. Truly, this is a reference quality disc. The lossless HD audio is a perfect complement to the visuals. Extras are the biggest disappointment, two utterly fleeting featurettes that begin and end seemingly in the middle.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)