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 (Mark Ruffalo), fresh off a transfer from Seattle. The two figure out in a hurry that things aren’t quite right in the facility. The lead psychiatrists aren’t helpful or cooperative, as they investigate how the patient in question escaped undetected from a locked room – 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. Teddy decides to dig deeper into the islands secrets that he believes are hidden within the facility’s walls.
Now, go into this film as much of a virgin to the material as possible if you can. Talking anymore about the picture would be a disservice to the twists and turns it takes. While it isn’t a wholly original idea, there are enough surprises and nuances to the story to make itself its own.
Visually the film is marvelous – from the editing, the cinematography, the effects work; all are just first rate from top to bottom. The editing works so well to disorient enough to keep the audience on their toes, and intrigue us as to things going on inside Daniel’s 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. They all look fantastic and are integrated seamlessly into the story, never standing out as if to say “look at me.” The film is also masterfully shot, creating some creepy and tense atmospheres with some incredible lighting throughout. I also loved the backwards effect that they do on a few occasions, really making you question what was going on.
Scorsese’s direction is just as solid as always here, and I liked 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 viewing. 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” or “Gangs of New York.” But Scorsese keeps us constantly engaged, and doesn’t lets up over a run time that never feels as long as it is. There is a tad too much exposition towards the end – and while in one scene it is necessary, the cave scene really seemed like it was a bit too much and convenient. But again, this might make more sense the 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 allusiveness 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, and 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. Add 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-