Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Shutter Island


“Fear erodes the mind.  It rusts it.”  Or so says Leonardo DiCaprio, in the trailer for his latest cinematic collaboration with living legend director, Martin Scorsese.  While Shutter Island has an immense, pounding effect on the viewers’ minds, it doesn’t quite erode it or rust it. What it does erode is any inkling of doubt you might have had about the combined, or individual, talents of DiCaprio, Scorsese, Sir Ben Kingsley (and his odd choice of roles lately), Mark Ruffalo, and about a half dozen supporting actors peppered throughout this chilling masterpiece.


DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a federal Marshall summoned to the Island, which is at best described as Alcatraz on steroids, with his new partner Chuck (Ruffalo) to solve the curious case of Rachel Solando.  Solando, somehow, has escaped the mental hospital/prison and completely vanished off an island surrounded by dozens of guards and 11 miles of freezing ocean. “Where is Rachel Solando?” – This is the question that gets the movie in gear. But it is the other questions – Who is Patient 67? What is the Law of 4? What are Dr. Cawley (Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max Von Sydow) hiding? What ulterior motives might Teddy have for taking the trip to Shutter Island? What’s with the Nazi flashbacks? – that drive Shutter Island right to the edge of the proverbial cliff and finally, right over it.

With Shutter Island, his fourth film with Scorsese, DiCaprio proves once again why he’s one of the greatest actors of our generation. It is an incorrigible travesty that his body of work has gone virtually unnoticed by the Academy. Leo barrels through Scorsese’s lush and rich set pieces; first, with the rugged determination of an insatiable hound dog on the chase, then later on, he effortlessly mirrors the confusion that has invaded the viewers’ minds long ago. To say this film is convoluted is akin to saying that Alfred Hitchcock was a competent director. Shutter Island takes you on a 140-minute-long roller coaster – only on this ride, you have no idea when or where it will stop. But Shutter’s twists and turns are reminiscent of the tricky plots of a vintage Tarantino film; at times, it drags a bit and you might not understand what is happening, but you’d be damned if you didn’t enjoy every passing moment of it. Dennis Lehane (who penned the original novel and is also responsible for other great films like Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River) and screen-adapter Laeta Kalogridis smartly know that a plot like this cannot work without an equally impactful payoff. And luckily for us, Shutter Island packs a wallop of an ending. It’s a knockout twist that will your jaw on the floor stewing with the discarded popcorn and pretzel salt.

Lest we forget, Shutter Island is not all shocking revelations, beautiful cinematography ( Scorsese’s regular D.O.P. Robert Richardson creates a 1950s environment you just want to soak into), and skilled direction – it also has the luck of containing no less than half a dozen great supporting performances. Sir Ben Kingsley is one that sticks out though, being deliciously ambiguous as the warden/head doctor Dr. Cawley. Kingsley never quite lets on to the audience whether he’s truly trying to help Teddy or if he might be hiding something despicable. Man von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, and Jackie Earle Haley all make mincemeat of their limited screen time, electrifying the screen with their pulpy monologues and turning what would be boring exposition in lesser hands into gripping moments.

Shutter Island follows Martin Scorsese’s string of instant classics, ranging back from Mean Streets to the film that finally won him a Best Director statue four years ago, The Departed. While some may argue that it cannot stand up to such distinctive films in cinematic history, but only time will tell if it belongs as not only one of Scorsese’s best, but maybe one of the best of the last quarter century. I daresay it will.


5 / 5 stars


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