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. does the ending have to do with him being the missing patient ?

    im guessing so dont go all out on me if im right.

  2. Nah, it's much more intricate than that.

  3. Thanks for the post. I'm really interested in seeing this film as I love all of Martin's work. I will make sure to pay close attention to detail. Sometimes you just have to see a film more than once to get everything intended. I'm going to check it out!

  4. Thanks for the review Kofi. I really enjoy intriguing complex thrillers, especially ones that are done well enough to warrant a second viewing at the cinema.

    I love Martin Scorsese's films and this sounds very interesting. You have definitely ignited my curiosity.

  5. Cool, my girl really wants to see this, but I guess this positive review makes me dread it less, maybe I might actually enjoy a movie she wants to see for once, lol. It's ok though because I'm dragging her ass to see Tron and Toy Story 3 with me, lol.

  6. All Scorcesse films must require a second and third viewing from my experience. Excellent review, peaked my interest some more for this film.

  7. I love Scorsese’s movies! And I think that I would watch any movie that he makes. I am actually really looking forward to seeing this movies!

  8. I'm really looking forward for this movie. It's been a while since I've watched a decent thriller, besides we're talking about Scorsese here.. There must be no wrong, heh (:

  9. Kofi,
    Thanks for the background on the film. Your review gives a heads up what to look for while viewing the film for the first time. I might even want to download Lehane's novel to read before seeing the film.

  10. Wow, thank you for your review! I had no idea what to expect from this movie, and after reading what you had to say…. Well, I will be going tonight =0) I hope I am not disappointed by the ending. I LOVE a good thriller, especially one that will keep me guessing. Good Job, and I would come back here to read more reviews. =0)

  11. no, after he finally was treated or whatever and realized reality he didn't want to live with what he now realizes so he decided to act insane again so they kill him. this was one of the greatest movies that i have ever seen but it's a mind twister.

  12. I just came from seeing the movie it starts off really slowwwwwwww u almost want to leave people were falling to sleep, towards the end u start to get interested again I must say after the ending you will want to see it again on DVD ofcourse the movie is long and prob. would have been more satisfying if it was 1.5 hr. instead of 2.5 pay attention to everything because in the end it will all make sense.

  13. I just came from seeing this movie. I found it to be very interesting from beginning to end. There isnt much going on in the beginning of the film but that doesnt make it slow, it actually builds on the mysteries of whats going down on the island. It kept me processing small clues throughout the movie till maybe 3/4 of the way in when i put all of it together and figured it out. AND although my first assumption of the story was correct, there were plenty of moments that threw me off a little and made me second guess myself which to me made the experience even more enjoyable.
    I was also intrigued with Leo's performance through out the whole movie. Leo was amazing to say the least.

  14. they did not kill him they did the brain surgery on him … was either he snap out of it or get the surgery as a last resort

  15. 3.5 for shutter island and 4.0 for the wolfman? I think you guys have your reviews backwards.

  16. no not at every thing you saw was his imagination just like when he shot the guy with that fake gun and he saw blood but there really wasn't no brain surgery. and dr rachel wasn't even there either it was all imagination.

  17. Sorry Kofi, but its not much more intricate than that. Only the very end will make people question Di Caprio's character.

  18. No it was not all imagination when they got to the light house. The people aside from his wife and blood were actually there. I think you need to watch it again, the movie was not that hard to decipher what actually going on.

  19. Prepare yourself for an over bearing score in the beginning and at the end that will have you laughing when they get to a place that is suppose to be suspenseful and turns out not to be.

  20. This movie could have been better, but it wasn't bad, and its not hard to figure out most of the so called twists if you pay attention.

  21. He was not killed he was lobotomized, there is a difference

  22. Thank you for the excellent review without spoiling it. This is my favorite type of movie. I will really have to try to pay attention as if I am in college class when I watch this film.
    I look forward to it!

  23. hey man you should like the great type movies she likes like shutter island, not those lame type of silly kid movies like tron and toy story ..c'mon man! get real dude!

  24. basically, when he wakes up and admits that he is andrew,
    he confesses that everything previous to that was all a dream.
    it was just him creating an alternate reality.
    and the ending is him regressing again

  25. just seen the movie. real real real good. and i've now bin talking about what was going on in the movies for the longest now. A few things to pay attention to… 1 the very beginning with his smokes and all of a sudden new partner secondly when his so called partner “chuck” went and fetched the ax killing lady some water. and thirdly the cave where the lady was explaining about the headaches etc. very very very good movie. 100 stars

  26. Are you sure he was regreesing or had he come as a marshall-also looking for Ledeis, but he ended up knowing too much, and they doped him and made him believe he killed his wife for cover? I think he came as a marshall, and since they knew he already knew too much, and they couldn't let him go with all that knowledge to keep their cover, so they doped him, and made him belive he was crazy and that he killed his wife.

  27. The part of the ending that bothered me was the tie- it was real. Ben Kingsley told him that he loved that car before Leo blew it up. So if the tie was real that means he was really wearing that at one point when he was on the boat. Where was he before he got on the boat? Does he just conveniently black out in his cell, they put him on the boat w/his “partner” the all conveniently start role playing? Pretty elaborate, don't you think? I wouldn't be so bothered by all of this if it weren't for the tie. I could believe it was just some sort of hallucination but obviously it wasn't.

  28. The movie sucked. The acting with the exception of Ben Kingsley was dull. CGI was weak as well. Overall, I would get it 1.5 out of 5. Save your $$$ or go see Avatar again.