Shutter Island is a solid psychological drama anchored by a great lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, masterful and patient direction by Martin Scorsese, and a genuinely creepy atmosphere that permeates every scene. To say this is Hitchcock-esque is an understatement. I wish the whole thing had been shot in black and white. While the deliberate pacing and over-explanatory ending are sure to divide crowds, what still remains is one of the finest mind benders in recent years.
DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall dispatched to the remote Shutter Island with his partner, Chuck (Ruffalo), to investigate the escape of a dangerous, mentally ill patient from the institution located on the island. Shutter Island houses only the most disturbed patients and the head of the institution, Dr. Cawley (Kingsley), firmly believes that each patient can be rehabilitated with the proper care. What clues there are regarding the patient’s disappearance does not add up and soon Daniels himself begins experiencing hallucinations and flashbacks. He begins to question his own sanity, and given some of the island’s revelations, he has good reason to.
Punctuated by a haunting score of horns and strings, director Martin Scorsese establishes and maintains a chilling atmosphere. There are no cheap thrills here, and the flashbacks to Daniels’ time in the Army during World War II are haunting and add a whole new layer to an already engaging story. Laeta Kalogridis’ screenplay keeps the exposition coming, and the film’s lengthy twenty-minute explanation is sure to start some conversations. Contrary to conventional thrillers, I don’t think the viewer is supposed to be overly shocked by the film’s “twist” (stay away from the early trailers, as they do divulge too much). It doesn’t take long to begin piecing it together. View the picture as more of a puzzle whose pieces are already on the table.
DiCaprio continues to excel under Scorsese’s direction and it’s no wonder that the director keeps coming back to him. DiCaprio is convincing through and through, even as his character continues to unravel. The supporting cast is similarly impressive, led by a nice return to form by Ben Kingsley. Very few can be as calm and collected, yet as creepy as Kingsley. Also of note are Max von Sydow as a mad doctor, Jackie Early Haley as a truly damaged patient, and Ted Levine as the Warden. He and DiCaprio share a Jeep ride that is one of the film’s most effective sequences.
Shutter Island is being slightly mis-marketed as a horror/thriller. There are elements of each to be found, but this is undoubtedly more a drama. Those expecting a thrill a minute will be bored, but this marks the much-needed return of what appeared to be a dormant niche genre. This is for the crowd who likes having a filmmaker mess with their head. Hitchcock is and always will be the master, but Scorsese has proven to be a worthy pupil and Shutter Island is a worthy addition to an already-illustrious career.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 138 Minutes
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.
Theatrical Release: February 19, 2010
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis. Based upon the novel by Dennis Lehane.
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams