There is a scene in Shutter Island in which the warden (a cameo of sorts played by Ted Levine who is more famous for flashing his dick and skinning his victims as the serial killer Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs) and DiCaprio ride in a jeep and have a little talk about violence. The jeep is ambling through the woods as Ted Levine leans over and conspiratorially remarks how similar the two of them are - how they're both 'men of violence' and relish this streak in themselves. There is considerable menace in his voice - a hint of vast reserves of physical energy just barely held in control by his better sense, to be unleashed with considerable pleasure at the slightest opportunity that walks around and decides to present itself. The warden is aware of the enjoyment he derives from blood and finds in DiCaprio an accomplice that shares the guilty pleasure in much the same way. There is considerable understated violence and hint of some big, impending disaster in the sinister smile and casual wink directed at DiCaprio - insinuating some deep, profound, primal connection between them - the kind that is prized precisely because it's so rare - the elusive bond that blood brothers, soulmates, mystics et al. claim to share.
DiCaprio is horrified at the thought and yet by the end of the scene indicates his willingness to flex his muscles and not back down from the fight if the warden were foolish enough to initiate one. "Attaboy", the warden's response seems to say. DiCaprio gets out of the jeep and walks away. It could've easily been the best scene of the film.
The theme of not backing down and never running away from a physical fight is a somewhat recurring theme throughout the movie ("You've never backed down from a fight haven't you?", remarks the German doctor (played by Max von Sydow) when they first meet in Ben Kingsley's mansion) which theme's supposed to reinforce in the audience an appreciation of the gritty, hard, tough, (if-need-be)-more-violent-than-you-can-imagine motherfucker DiCaprio's character's supposed to portray. And herein lies the biggest flaw the film - the miscasting of DiCaprio as the gentle-outside-but-uberviolent-beast-lurking-inside character that his persona just doesn't reflect at all. The entire (tongue-in-cheek one might say) premise of the film - it might just be better to die a good man than stay alive a monster - relies fundamentally on DiCaprio's characterization as the monster.
Make no mistake about it - DiCaprio is a great actor. For those who've been his sworn enemies ever since Titanic came out need to look at his absolutely brilliant role in the film The Basketball Diaries (orders of magnitude better than his more celebrated Oscar nominated role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?). DiCaprio was, before the superstardom of Titanic, with good reason, an indie sensation. He's himself conceded that perhaps rather than Titanic, he should've acted in the abso-fucking-lutely awesome Boogie Nights by the brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson. In particular, he is able to evoke the hallucination enforced loneliness and intense sense of loss that his character is haunted by throughout the movie; but for all his awesome acting skill, he just can't fit the part of the monster he's so thrashed out to be. Scorsese has made the little, harmless Joe Pesci far more intimidating and monsterish in his previous flicks.
And so, as Ted Levine gives us a chilly yet casual glimpse into his ambient low-level, loosely chained violent side, we groan and curse him for misjudging the intense, smart, yet fundamentally weak DiCaprio as his counterpart.
Sigh, sigh, sigh.
Deniz is right when she says we don't expect this from Scorsese.