Shutter Island

The Paramount logo comes up.  The score booms and forewarns us of impending doom from the get-go.  The promotional art tells us most of what we need to know: Some one is missing. The additional details include the time period: 1954, and the fact that two U.S. Marshals have been sent to investigate the disappearance.  That missing someone is Rachel Solando, a mental patient of the Aschcliffe Ward on the bedrock-barricaded Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio reteam for a fourth collaboration–adapting Dennis Lehane’s psychological horror novel “Shutter Island” into a feature-length film.  DiCaprio plays one of the cops: Teddy Daniels, while Mark Ruffalo tags along as his newly-assigned partner, Chuck Aule.  The duo must tread through an increasingly gloomy mystery surrounding Mrs. Solando’s disappearance.  Somehow she managed to escape her room, locked from the outside, get past the nurses and other guards, and work her way over and down the island’s cliff-side, all without wearing any shoes.  While it appears if she had waited 35 years or so, John McClane could’ve given her a few words of wisdom, but no matter, Aule and Daniels have to make sense of this disappearance with limited help from those in charge on the island.  The cops are given restricted access and dead-ends to everything they need in their investigation.  Daniels, our lead character, seems to have his own issues–from his nightmares of WWII Germany, to hallucinations of his murdered wife (Michelle Williams).  It seems Daniels took the case because of Laeddis (Elias Koteas), the man who murdered his wife, who happens to be institutionalized on the island.  Not only that, but Daniels has theories on what actually happens in this facility–secret government experimentation on patients.  The winds and rain increase.  Dreariness consumes the island, and the two investigators find themselves trapped.  Soon enough, Daniels feels he’s becoming a target and is warned by another patient (Jackie Earl Haley) that he’ll never escape the island.

I can toss and turn over what I think about “Shutter Island,” but at the end of the day–Mr. Scorsese and novelist Dennis Lehane succeed–their movie got me thinking, and very much so. That’s a testament to movies these days.  This nose-to-the-grindstone thriller captures sensible and thoughtful horror at its most pronounced.  While the master-filmmaker Scorsese throws in a few cheap-tricks, he does so with such looseness, that it all feels fresh, making richness out of elements that get thrown away in a teen slasher flick.  The movie isn’t exactly short on gore or disturbing visuals, or even heinous figures leaping out of the darkness.  What good ol’ Marty adds to the mix is a tightening claustrophobia, an endless trap of isolation, and cross-trekking mystery.

DiCaprio holds this all together quite well.  He has a multi-layered performance that deserves to be closely examined.  He remains somewhat distant throughout the movie.  Only through small doses of information and nightmarish visions do we slowly learn more of his emotionally-shattered history.  Add in reliable performances from Mark Ruffalo as a potentially untrustworthy partner officer, and two living legends: Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow as menacing doctors overseeing the marshals’ investigation.

Technically, the movie is about perfect…absorbing, atmospheric, shocking, and alluring despite many moments during the film that feel unpolished, overlooked, and even clumsy.  Leave that to Martin Scorsese and his long-time editor Thelma Shoonmaker to use to their advantage.  “Shutter Island” has been mapped out from beginning to end, with every detail serving a particular intent.  In fact, the film’s only drawback is that many movies have done much the same thing.  If anyone out there like me felt while watching the theatrical trailer for this movie, that something very apparent was being spoiled, don’t worry–you’re not alone.  In some ways, ‘Shutter Island’ follows a path we know all too well, and even then, it still has its surprises.  While not one of the best Scorsese films by any means, Martin and his ever-blossoming Leo create a haunting experience hinging on a ‘twist’ where the intended reveal is up to the viewer.  I look forward to a second viewing of ‘Shutter Island’ that may potentially further my admiration of this unmistakably involving thriller from a man who knows his movies.

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Rating: 4.4/5 (5 votes cast)
Shutter Island, 4.4 out of 5 based on 5 ratings 2 COMMENTS


  1. Nobody does drama quite like Scorcese, and even though I didn’t really like The Departed I think this film is worth a look. It seems like a spiritual successor to Cape Fear, which was also a pretty intense thriller/horror film. Mostly what intrigues me is DiCaprio, as he has proven himself to be quite a surprising actor in recent years. One of the few who have successfully made the transition from teenage heartthrob to respected celluloid thespian.

  2. Is it me, or does it seem like there’s no way to be sure Daniels’ “delusions” aren’t really true?

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