Review: Shutter Island

The pure definition of a psychological thriller right down to the foreboding music, Shutter Island is a slow burn that may take you down what seems an obvious path but is really building to a great, surprising and ultimately better conclusion than is expected.

Martin Scorsese and his repeat partner Leonardo DiCaprio (fourth time), forgo the “based on a true” stories or mobster fare and head back to the more Cape Fear headspace. Dark, creepy and not what you expect, this movie is a fun ride that only gets better towards the end.


A federal marshall (DiCaprio) and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) investigate the disappearance of an inmate from a mental institution for the criminally insane. While there, the officers slowly discover the details of the case don’t add up and the hospital/prison psychiatrist (Ben Kingsley) and staff are not being completely honest with them. As the investigation continues, and details of DiCaprio’s past are revealed including the death of his wife (Michelle Williams), the truth of the case finally unravels.

Here’s an example of over marketing. After having started this blog, I now am committed to going to at least one movie a week, which also means a buffet of movie trailers as well. One I was really excited for was Shutter Island…until I saw the trailer for the 37th time. Overkill much? Thankfully in this case, it didn’t give as much away of the movie as I thought it did. Wish that was the case with more movies.

The movie started off pretty slow. And to be honest, the music was a bit much. Dammit they were just walking up to a gate and the tone was like an axe murderer was going to fly out. And that was just in the first 5 minutes. The movie does hit its stride though even if things seemed a little too convenient. (ie. DiCaprio just happens to be at the base of a cliff when he just happens to run into another character that was hiding there). It bothered me. It bothered me that Scorsese would be so simple…but that’s where my faith in the man was misplaced. He knew what he was doing. It’s all done for a reason. Obviously I won’t spoil it here but with a 2+ hour storyline, it’s methodical and it’s measured but the payoff is worth it.

DiCaprio is finally starting to look all growed up. It took a while for the babyfat to turn to world-weariness but there it is. He is very effective as a grizzled former war hero who sniffs a conspiracy on the island. He’s haunted, suspicious and driven…you can really feel his intensity. The rest of the cast is really just there to support him but they do a great job. The standout being Ben Kingsley as the maybe, possibly evil psychiatrist…could be? The man could read the phone book with more presence than most actors. He’s got a sense of humour too. Check this clip. Michelle Williams is amazing as DiCaprio’s dead wife, coming to him in hallucinations and vivid dreams. Pretty dark material for a woman who just lost her ex but she rises to the occasion. Everyone else is really there for their “opportunity to work with Scorsese.” Patricia Clarkson, Elias Koteas, Max Von Sydow, Ted Levine, Emily Mortimer…all with small but scene-chewing parts.

I’d be remiss (I’m not a remisser) if I didn’t mention the island itself. The prison was as much a part of this movie as the characters were. We don’t get to see much of the area but the setting, the buildings, the forests, the weather…the entire environment had as much impact on the characters as they did for each other.

Scorsese has far more ups than he does downs and he continues his upward trend with Shutter Island. For a guy who doesn’t do thrillers very often, he’s sure pretty damn good at them.

4 stars – you’d recommend this. Though not as good as DiCaprio and Scorsese’s previous collaboration “The Departed,” this movie has enough twists and suspense in it to keep you entertained and wanting to go back and see the movie again for anything you missed. Not many movies do that anymore.

Coming Attractions:
Toy Story 3 (release date: June 18, 2010) – No other studio has been as consistent with their products as Pixar. Whether owned by Disney or not owned by Disney or owned by Disney again, the animation studio has pretty much done its own thing with spectacular results. This shouldn’t be any different. Plus I love evil toys.


Randomly Recommended
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) – One of the most amazingly visual movies I’ve ever seen. Written by Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich), this is a tale of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as boyfriend/girlfriend and erasing those painful memories after a breakup. Part sci-fi, part romance, part mind “F”…you’ll get more out of repeated viewings. Oh and Elijah “Frodo” Wood is uber-creepy.


Three Days of the Condor (1975) – Yes, there were spy movies before Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie kicked the crap out of each other in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. This is one of the best. Robert Redford, Faye Dunaway and Max Von Sydow tell the story of a CIA researcher who can’t trust anyone after all his co-workers are killed.


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