Review: Shutter Island


Many people questioned acclaimed director Martin Scorsese choosing to helm a pure genre film in the psychological thriller “Shutter Island,” but the marriage of one of the masters of crime drama and a Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone”) novel is as close to an ideal match as it sounds. Although Scorsese is capable of applying his skills to more meaningful work than a mystery, he’s able to play around a lot more with technique, style, light and color to turn a somewhat predictable mystery into a captivating thriller.

Many great thrillers have taken place within the walls of an insane asylum and “Shutter Island” takes this to the max. The isolated east-coast island is home to the most dangerous of the criminally insane. When two U.S. marshals (DiCaprio and Ruffalo) come to the island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of the inmates, they find themselves up to their necks in an even bigger mystery involving the hospital and everyone in it.

As Daniels investigates, we learn he is somewhat intimately tied to the case and the facility. He’s lost his wife in a fire and the man who set it is locked up somewhere on the island. Daniels has dreams of his wife coming to him and speaking to him, turning to ash in his arms. He even starts to hallucinate while awake. Scorsese certainly hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to play with false reality in his films, so he relishes these opportunities. Dream sequences are often pointless, but Scorsese makes them intriguing, beautiful and haunting all at once despite their excessive use. He picks powerful images that might make you shake your head at times, but they enhance the mystery in the long run.

Numerous scenes give Scorsese a chance to show off. When he investigates the mysterious Ward C, Daniels has nothing but matches. As he speaks to one of the prisoners, someone he knew off the island, he continues to light matches to see — a new one every time one burns out. Scorsese develops a rhythm of creepy dialogue from Jackie Earl Haley and quick shots of the match striking flint then lighting the actors’ faces. Dull moments are extremely rare in “Shutter Island.”

Scorsese gets the most out of each scene, but the film doesn’t conceal its hand all that well. A few lines of dialogue connect some if not most of the dots, so the impact of the last several minutes (aka the big reveal) is not as effective as some of the great thrillers out there. Without Scorsese and the talents of DiCaprio, however, “Shutter Island” might’ve ended up just a decent film as opposed to a very good one. It’s too impressively executed to be bunched in with the bulk of decent thrillers out there, but not clever and original enough to be among the genre’s elite. Scorsese might be capable of better, but “Shutter Island” proves his versatility more so than take anything away from his legacy.

4/5 Stars

Shutter Island
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane (novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley

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