Review: Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel Shutter Island is a successful mystery thriller with a great lead turn by Leonardo DiCaprio and a plot that brings some originality to a potentially tired idea.
DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates at a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. He is paired up with a new partner, Chuck, fresh off a transfer from Seattle and the two figure out in a hurry that things aren’t quite right in the facility. The lead psychiatrists aren’t helpful or cooperative, the patient in questions escaped undetected, from a locked room, and did this all barefoot in a rough terrain grounds to escape too. Added to this, a hell of a storm sweeps in over the island and strands Chuck and Teddy there and Teddy decides to dig deeper into the islands secrets that he believes are being hid within the facilities walls.
Now, go into this film as much of a virgin as possible to the material if you can. Talking anymore about the picture would be a disservice to the twists and turns it takes and while it isn’t a wholly original idea there are enough surprises and nuance to the story the make itself its own.
Visually the film is marvelous, from the editing, the cinematography, the effects work, all are just top notch from top to bottom. The editing works so well to disorient enough to keep us on our toes and intrigue us to things going on inside Daniels head. Thelma Schoonmaker continues to shine with Scorsese in the editing room and they have another winner here. The film is also the most visual effects heavy Scorsese film yet, especially in shots that are obviously effects in that they were not possible without them, and they all look fantastic and are integrated seamlessly into the story and never standout as “look at me.” The film is also masterfully shot and lit creating some creepy and tense atmospheres with some incredible lighting through out. Also, loved the backwards effect they do on a few occasions, really makes you go WTF.
Scorsese’s direction is just as solid as always here as well and like this film more than I did The Departed the first time through. Though I am very intrigued to see how this plays on a second time through. It should play better and be an almost completely different experience, but you will have to watch and see why that is. There does seem to be a hair less passion in this project than say the Aviator and Gangs of New York, but Scorsese keeps us constantly engaged and never lets up over a run time that never feels as long as it is. There is also a tad too much exposition towards the end and while once scene it is necessary, the cave scene really seemed like it was a bit too much and a tad to convenient; but again this might make more sense second time through. Scorsese makes the later scene in the film work by nodding at the bit of absurdity in it all while also getting great work out of his actors to sell it. But it is scenes that can captivate and shock in single moments, i.e. the lake house, which will have you forgetting about any minor quibbles you might have had.
The acting and cast is also great in the picture with a number of great actors filling out the supporting cast around DiCaprio’s lead. DiCaprio shows such a fantastic range in this picture it is one of his most impressive roles in that aspect alone. It might not be his best overall performance, as strong as it is, but it allows him to showcase his considerable range and further cement himself as one of his generation’s greats. Mark Ruffalo finally gets a major role in an A+ picture and he doesn’t waste a moment. I do wish we got more of him as his role seems a tad truncated, but he plays both sides to his part quite well. Ben Kingsley is also fantastic as usual and brings a wonderful illusiveness to his character that never lets us get comfortable with who he is or where he is coming from. Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch, they all turn in wonderful work in their smaller roles, but I think Michelle Williams haunting turn as Teddy’s deceased wife takes the cake from the rest of the supporting cast.
In the end, Shutter Island is a success in its suspense, engagement of the audience, and air of mystery that it casts over everything in the picture. Always keeping us guessing and on our toes, the film never lets you trust anyone and wondering what the next scene will throw at you. Throw in some great acting, a brilliant/perfect final moment, and some master directing to keep a potentially destructive third act on track and you have a solid picture that will potentially grow greatly on future viewings. DiCaprio is great as always and you will find yourself wrapped up in Teddy’s case as it spirals towards a unforeseen conclusion.
Shutter Island is an A-

One thought on “Review: Shutter Island

  1. I’m afraid I strongly disagree with you on your final conclusion of Shutter Island. The first 85% of the movie keeps you living one scene to the next, I will give you that. However, the final 15% is a cop out. It’s almost as if the movie was summarized by “Rachel Silandro” earlier when she said something along the lines of “Once a person is deemed crazy, anything they say, no matter how sensible will be deemed as crazy”. So basically this movie got itself into an interesting plot, then burned all bridges once it realized there was no way for Leo to get out alive. Well, anything is possible when the main character is crazy!!

    It’s a slap in the face to anyone invested in the main character and they might as well have just made the first 85% of the movie a dream sequence. Excellent acting, terrible plot twist.

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