Shutter Island Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated February 20th, 2010 at 2:57 pm,

Shutter Island is a surprising, flawed, gorgeous and interesting movie that you definitely need to see at least twice.

shutter island review Shutter Island Review

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw reviews Shutter Island

This is one of those reviews where I feel totally chained by the NO SPOILER rule. After all, it’s almost impossible to talk about Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island without discussing the film in its entirety. Shutter Island isn’t one of those simple “love it” or “hate it” movie experiences – this is one of those films that makes you go, “Hmmmm…”

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels, a hard-ass cop who gets called out to a remote psychiatric ward off the New England shore (I’ll let you guess the name of the island). It’s a facility where dangerous maniacs are subjected to unique “treatments” by the questionable Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and his loyal staff of physicians, nurses and heavily armed corrections officers.

Teddy arrives on Shutter Island (seasick no less) with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), determined to get to the bottom of a case involving a female inmate  named Rachel Solando, who vanished from her cell without a trace. Rachel is unstable and dangerous: she was sent to the Island after murdering her three children and arranging them around the dinner table for her husband to find.

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Ben Kingsley and Leo DiCaprio in a scene from 'Shutter Island'

Teddy and Chuck start asking questions, but they don’t get answers. Nobody on the island seems to want to talk – not the staff, not the patients, and certainly not Dr. Cawley and his cunning partner, Dr. Naehring (the brilliant Max von Sydow). Certain staff are conveniently “on vacation,” when the Marshals arrive to talk with them, important records are being kept confidential, and Teddy and Chuck – two WWII vets who know the face of true evil – soon begin to wonder about the mess they’ve stumbled into.

As the two Marshals dig deeper, Teddy begins to come apart; He starts having crazy dreams soon after Dr. Cawley feeds him some “Aspirin,” and those dreams soon turn into waking hallucinations of his dead wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), who was killed in an arson fire a few years back. As his mind starts slipping, Teddy realizes that Dr. Cawley and his island may be a trap he has foolishly stumbled into. Trusting no one but his partner and himself, Teddy sets off to kick down the locked doors of the Island and discover the truth.

Shutter Island is based on the novel of the same name by author Dennis Lehane, who is best known for his Boston area mystery/dramas, Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. Unlike those other two books, however, Shutter Island is a psychological drama that is far deeper and more complex. The clear challenge facing screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis was how to take all the psychological components of the story and balance them with the pulp mystery narrative that most viewers are expecting.

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While the script managed to strike a good balance on paper, I don’t think Scorsese was that fortunate in translating it to the screen. First, let me say that Shutter Island is one of the most visually rich Scorsese films that I’ve seen since Raging Bull. The photography and cinematography are simply gorgeous and the dream/hallucinations sequences (which can be so lame when executed poorly) are some of the most striking I’ve seen in awhile. There are also plenty of Easter-egg references to pulpy B-movies of the past – a nice bit of extra for fans familiar with the genre.

However, Shutter Island definitely stumbles in the editing department. The transitions between “the real” and “the surreal” are clunky and often awkward, especially as the mystery unwinds in the second and third acts. The nature of the story and the heavy psychological components also affect the pacing; even though the writer and director never lose sight of where they’re going, the film itself will ultimately feel that way to a first-time viewer. It’s a necessary evil though, and I don’t really see how the filmmakers could’ve done it any other way. It’s a hard story to tell on film.

The actors faced similar challenges. DiCaprio, Kingsley and Ruffalo in particular had a tough time of it, faced with the task of turning in multi-layered performances of depths they probably weren’t expecting until they actually got on set and started filming. The entire ensemble pulls through pretty well (DiCaprio does some heavy lifting performance-wise) – although I definitely need to see the film again, knowing how it ends, and watch the performances with a closer eye.

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There are some great cameos, including an appearance by Ted “Buffalo Bill” Levine as Shutter Island’s violent warden; Jackie Earle Haley as a distraught inmate; and Patricia Clarkson even shows up for a brief moment as a mysterious woman living on the island. Michelle Williams probably turns in the best performance of all as Teddy’s murdered wife, even though she only appears in the most surreal moments of the movie.

Ultimately Shutter Island is an interesting departure for Scorsese. And while the end result isn’t perfect, the fact that the film was crafted by one of cinema’s greatest directors elevates it far above the hokey B-movie-with-a-twist that it could’ve been. Personally speaking, I’m one of those movie lovers who appreciates a film that makes me want to watch it again as soon as the end credits have rolled – and Shutter Island is definitely that. I’m already looking forward to my second visit.

If you want to talk about the film in detail without worrying about spoiling it for people who haven’t seen it, head over to our Shutter Island spoilers discussion.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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  1. The movie was good, the ni**ger comment when Dicaprio is interviewing one man was way outta line. That enraged me to a boiling point, top blowing off mad. That’s all I’m going to say about that. I would likely be flagged.

    • I’m sure it wasn’t meant to offend the viewer, but was a commentary on society in 1954 and the paranoia about communism, atomic bombs, etc. Do you think Germans get boiling mad when they watch? How do you think us crazy people feel about the whole damn thing???? I agree it was a good movie, definitely worth watching twice!

    • You know it’s a character right?…and the 1950s-60s era

  2. It seems likely that events occurred according to the doctors story. Although there are some openings for the conspiracy angle, such as the amount of staff and police presence is excessive for an isolated mental institution, and the timing of leos memory blank and ship voyage was too precise unless they kept him on the ship until his next memory blank cycle.?

  3. It’s likely that events occurred according to the doctors story. Although there are some openings for the conspiracy angle, such as the amount of staff and police presence is excessive for an isolated mental institution, and the timing of leos memory blank and ship voyage was too precise unless they kept him on the ship until his next memory blank cycle.?

  4. What a wonderful insight into mental health. Luckily, many people don;t experience or know that they have experienced another person with mental health issues. The story line is entirely believable & follows well on the coat-tails of Russell Crowes movie of delusional behaviour.

    Many persons who suffer the issues addressed by this movie would consider any resolution to be better than living throgh the ongoing hell which makes the ending both understandable & very real.

    As a person managing a lesser evil, I relate well to this movie & admire the courage & acting ability required to make such a film & bring attention to a very real but little addressed scourge of our civilsization.

    Film makers have broken new ground in the past with AIDS, cancer & numerous other dramatic afflictions. It’s refreshing to see them take on mental health. It can be dangerous, but it must be done.

    • correctly, the insight and the mental extremity that that the movie takes us to, clearly reveals the efforts by the movie maker

  5. I just saw this for the first time and was blown away! I went and read a lot of web commentary and wanted to throw my two cents in. SPOILER ALERT.
    Watching it the second time removed any doubt I had, I sort of felt stupid for not seeing it the first time. The key is “Chuck”. Wicked-good Boston accent for a Seattle (not Portland) federal agent? When they interview the axe murder lady she looks at Chuck when Dr. Sheehan is mentioned. She says “he’s not hard on the eyes” and Chuck blushes. Also to his credit Mark Ruffolo plays it perfect with his eye contact with the Dr, staff and guards. Its obvious from the start whats going on. My only criticism is that the role play was a little extravagant and had too many people playing along, but hey – thats hollywood!

  6. I understand both angles to view this movie from, and I do think that the filmmakers/director wanted the truth to be that Teddy actually is crazy. HOWEVER, there are several holes: such as the boat mind “reset” timing, them telling him he didn’t arrive with a partner, Mrs. Kearns writing “RUN,” and several others (Which should’ve been fixed in the screen-writing!)

    ^These holes make this movie not as great as it could have been (despite how much some of you love this movie.

    Anyway, the thing I don’t understand is why the Security Guard has such a STRANGE conversation with Teddy in the car?? He sounds like a lunatic! any help here??

    • I think Mrs. Kearn’s “Run” helps the defense of the plotted scenario. A patient who sees another patient with new freedoms and a doctor walking away would most definitely behave that way.

      As far as the guard having the conversation with Teddy, I believe it shows his personal stance on the treatment of criminals and his belief in psychosis.

      This move is a fantastic look into a time that was marred by the treatment and knowledge of not only the clinically insane, but the intellectually disabled.

    • je veu etre membre

  7. I suppose Scorsese did not make it for the box, or it would have had less complexity and more treasury appeal. So, I see it on “the box,” television, eh.

    What put him on to the novel? How did he discover this screen adaption to shape the deconstructive Freudian nuance and weave the storyline back to an atomistic plot?

    Who killed the guards? Did that not happen on the side of a hill.

    Kingsley – so obvious, but facial deformations are a bit of a stretch, why not get it all dirty, man? This doctoring element but was there an acid decanter in any scene?

  8. I got the ending the first time I watched it. Enjoy it because I didn’t figure it out until the end in the lighthouse. Enjoyed watching it again and watching the reactions of the other characters that I missed the first time around.