MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Psychological Thriller/ Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Elias Koteas, Robin Bartlett, Christopher Denham/Runtime: 138 minutes
I think “quirky yet captivating” might actually be a very well-thought out description for Shutter Island. Indeed based on the novel by the same author whose prior works gave us the adaptations for Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island manages to play out as a mystery film from the 1950’s and 60’s. Indeed this is a truly amazing example of movie magic that manages to cancel out any chance of audience predictability with a terrific sense of craftsmanship, wonderfully-stylizing sets, some locations that are outright spine-tingling, absolutely phenomenal work from a terrific cast, and taut and electrifying direction from a true filmmaking legend. Indeed best described as a film noir with a punch to the gut, Shutter Island really does give off the vibe that it is something from a different era, of which a good portion for the reason can be placed on the setting of the 1950’s. Yet I think more of it can be attributed to Scorsese’s genius skill at playing around with what many see as typical ingredients to a specific genre, and in the process giving to audiences a movie that’s as engaging, unique, and thrilling as any a filmmaker could hope to make…..even if the mystery isn’t as shrouded in uncertainty as we might like.
The plot is as follows: Shutter Island follows a U.S. Marshall by the name of Teddy Daniels as well as his new partner Chuck Aule as they find themselves appointed to look into the eerie vanishing of a female patient from a place known as Ashecliff Hospital. Ashecliff we quickly learn is a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane located on a remote island known as Shutter Island that is located some miles off the Massachusetts coast line. As to the patient who has disappeared, it is a woman by the name of Rachel Salando, and she is also a woman who was accused of murdering her three young children. She also is apparently quite the escape artist as she not only was able to disappear from a sealed room, but she also was able to get past every single guard & head outside in the pouring down rain and without wearing any footwear whatsoever. Suffice it to say this stretch of facts seem to be too much for our intrepid duo and it isn’t long before they start to suspect that Rachel might have had an accomplice or 2 in her escape. A theory that is vehemently and passionately denied by the hospital’s head specialist Dr. Cawley. However when Cawley decides to derail the investigation even further by denying the Marshall’s relevant documents to make their search easier, our dynamic duo decide to widen their investigation to also extend both to the island and the hospital itself. Suffice it to say that what they will discover is a complicated tangle of lies, frustration, head-scratching confusion, and potent emotional pain that will soon cause them to start questioning just what is real and what is the product of their imagination…..
Now for an individual to make the statement that this film becomes way too predictable after a certain point in the film really truly is missing the genuine story behind this film. I say that because by the moment in time that this film finally chooses to make its way toward explaining just what exactly is really going on, a viewer and their focus have managed to switch from the more typical mystery plot to an engrossing, heart wrenching, and unfortunately quite possible analysis of a soul in great anguish and pain. Indeed this is a film which is a detailed analysis not only of the human condition as we know it, but also a look at the challenges that horrific tragic occurrences can bring to a person’s mind, heart, body, and soul and result in a human being finding themselves psychologically unable to really come to grips with these events in any rational way. Thus I think that the reason the film is called Shutter Island is because I think it is named after items that’s reason for existing is to either filter the light or to blot it out from being able to break up the darkness entirely thus giving an individual the ability to structure an environment to their liking. I also think it is about how an individual’s distinct defense mechanisms can truly overrun a person both physically and psychologically and start only letting them see just enough to hide that very thin line between their idyllic fantasies and the horrifying truth behind their reality.
Now Scorsese manages to do a wonderful job of highlighting the concepts that define this film by also showcasing an atmosphere that, from a visual standpoint, is seemingly hostile and tense right from the get-go as well as a vibe that simply manages to further throw the audience into a state of both anarchy and befuddlement rather than any kind of clarity whatsoever. Now in most cases these 2 items would be the equivalent of giving a lesser established director in the film industry a possible death sentence. Thankfully Scorsese is most certainly not fitting of that description and as such manages to do a wonderful job of really keeping the overarching narrative, the more serious ingredients, and its distinct style all perfectly level with another. Heck he even contributes a surprising sense of humor to moments within the film that aren’t funny in any definition of the word at all. Rather it’s from nothing more than a glance, a noise, or anything else that can be identified as a wee bit off even if not immediately identifiable as such that also serves to bring a little bit of light to both the weight this film carries as well as the pitch-black mood without once taking away from the effectiveness of the film’s atmosphere. Scorsese also manages to brilliantly utilize the more commonly utilized ingredients of this particular type of film right down to the whole “it was a dark and stormy night” bit and makes them all work absolutely wonderfully in his quest to ensure that each and every one of these ingredients all go towards enhancing the narrative both dramatically and content-wise. Indeed I would even go so far as to make the bold claim that this film is just as creepy and tense as Silence of the Lambs in many ways. The key difference being that instead of mostly locating the unease of the audience through character and moments of action, Scorsese also manages to conjure it up courtesy of this movie’s significantly high amount of enclosed, chaotic, and quite uncertain locales that all function as an embodiment of just what is being brewed behind the curtain and that which will be finally shown to you by the end of the film.
Now I think it is safe to say that in his time as an actor Leonardo DiCaprio has only managed to get stronger and stronger as a performer and if anything his phenomenal working relationship with Scorsese ought to be proof of that. Suffice it to say his lead role in this is yet another winner. Indeed I honestly feel that if the lead role didn’t have either the strength or the charisma that Leo brings to it, I feel a lot of the ingredients that this movie chooses to present to us as an audience might not have been as successful. This is because this film really truly did depend quite potently on the fact that whoever wound up in the lead role of Teddy Daniels had to possess not only quite the versatility, but just as important, make each and every audience member be able to really care about him, the situation he has found himself in, and hope he is able to uncover just what exactly is going on whilst also being plagued by an array of flashbacks from his past. Indeed even though there were most likely some more physical moments where stunt people had to fill in, but in regards to the dramatics of the performance that is all 100% Leo up on screen, and suffice it to say it is also Grade-A as well. As for the supporting cast they all, from Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, to Michelle Williams, Ted Levine, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer and Jackie Earle Haley all do uniformly strong work across the board no matter how big or small their role may be. Indeed talk about a true all-star cast getting to play against quite the gritty and frightening backdrop while also being aided by very clever special effects when the story manages to ask for it.
All in all Shutter Island may be, in terms of genre, an ingenious mixture of film noir, detective films, and psychological horror, but at its heart and center it is an in-depth and immersive investigation into just how disturbed the human mind can become that also manages to work as a thrill ride in the vein that would make Hitchcock before morphing into something that is way bigger and way more complex than you could ever imagine. Thus I think it is safe to say that when you, the movie goer chooses to sit down and view Shutter Island, I feel you should know that you are not just engaged in the process of viewing a film from Martin Scorsese; rather you’re watching quite a few classic films all at one time, but that have all been spliced together and blended into a single film that was brought together by a legendary filmmaker whose astonishing knowledge into the history of cinema manages to come through in every minute detail that is present in this film. However when you combine that along with dynamic work from both a remarkable cast and a wonderful crew what you are left with is yet another masterwork from a filmmaker whose entire career has been just that. On a scale of 1-5 I give Shutter Island a solid 4 out of 5.