Shutter Island Review

Published 4 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.

shutter island review2 Shutter Island Review

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.

shutter island review4 Shutter Island Review

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.

shutter island review3 Shutter Island Review

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)

TAGS: 3 star movies, shutter island

112 Comments

Post a Comment

  1. This movie was 'Les Miserables'

  2. this is what I think too!

  3. Interesting pick-up. I need to see it again just to follow that element. I think the entire thing is a dream, and he is actually crazy. I realize he could have been wet from swimming, but awakening with him wearing clothes I don't think we had seen before suggested all out dream to me, until the last scene. He realizes he is crazy, and wants to escape the madness.

  4. What is the difference between lobotomized and death. It seems to me that they are very close to each other.

    • Did you miss the reference to “ghosting” at the lighthouse?
      What may also imply something about the screen writer.

  5. I thought it was predictable as well but I was wrong. The intervention actually worked he was 'cured' but he didn't want to live with the knowledge of his kids being drowned by his wife which he blames himself for ignoring her illness. His line 'would you want to die a good man or live as a monster' sealed it for me. For him being lobotomized meant 'dying' as a good man. You can see the symbolism through out the show for his hallucination was his wife died in a fire. All the people he supposedly talked to was surrounding by fire – the lady in the cave, Laddeis, the car exploding – they were all hallucination. But every now and then you would see water leaking through (he had to swim to the light house) The water represents reality trying to break through. He is afraid of water because that is where the tragedy happened. I think this is a movie people will have to watch twice. After I found this information I really wanted to see it again. We all thought the twist was that he was the inpatient. Actually that was what was obvious. The twist is much deeper then that.

  6. I thought it was predictable as well but I was wrong. The intervention actually worked he was 'cured' but he didn't want to live with the knowledge of his kids being drowned by his wife which he blames himself for ignoring her illness. His line 'would you want to die a good man or live as a monster' sealed it for me. For him being lobotomized meant 'dying' as a good man. You can see the symbolism through out the show for his hallucination was his wife died in a fire. All the people he supposedly talked to was surrounding by fire – the lady in the cave, Laddeis, the car exploding – they were all hallucination. But every now and then you would see water leaking through (he had to swim to the light house) The water represents reality trying to break through. He is afraid of water because that is where the tragedy happened. I think this is a movie people will have to watch twice. After I found this information I really wanted to see it again. We all thought the twist was that he was the inpatient. Actually that was what was obvious. The twist is much deeper then that.

  7. just a terrible snooze of a movie…don't waste your money… complex?…Hmmmn …yeah I went hmmmn …hmmn why did I spend 20 bucks to go see this bore?

  8. this really was shutter island! after all the suspense, the end shuttered!

  9. i get that he would rather “die as a good man” than iive with the reality that he killed his wife, at the end of the movie he was not crazy he just acted like it so that they would kill him. But what I dont understand is why the doctor did not catch on? “chuck” his doctor should have taken the cue that he was not crazy, do you think the doctor realized that but wanted andrew to have his choice which was death?

  10. SPOILER REVIEW. David Lynch's 2001 masterpiece Mulholand Drive clearly inspired this career shift from Scorsese, which takes the book's narrative to a different conclusion and in the service of greater themes. Most viewers will simply conclude what Ben Kingsley's doctor tells Teddy to be the truth in the end, and also that Teddy then opts for a lobotomy to avoid living “as a monster.” In truth, Teddy's wife never died. That's because Teddy had no wife. He had no children that drowned. He ends the story just as he began it: trapped in a conspiracy of post-Nazi Germany brainwashing and surgical experiments taking place on Shutter Island. Ask yourself: Would Martin Scorsese really invest 20 minutes wrapping up a banal Sixth Sense-type 'plot twist'? Would he use Holocaust imagery simply to heighten his narrative's drama? Put his audience step-by-step through drowning murders we've already been fully informed of merely to add superfluous violence? Consider: his therapists tell Teddy that the toy gun he picks up from the desk in the lighthouse is his gun, yet it is clearly his partner/primary doctor's 'in-holster' gun; though he's “given the run of the place,” Teddy is refused access to patient files and is discouraged from visiting the lighthouse, now supposedly a “sewage treatment facility”; the pattern of Teddy's tie changes from the car explosion scene to the drowning scene, one of several hints that the rehash is an artificial “memory” remaining from the 9-months prior attempt to brainwash him; there's no reason Teddy would be wearing the patterned tie at all on the random day his wife supposedly drowns their children; he has an emotional connection to only his “daughter” and not to his two “sons” during the drowning scene because none of them were his children but the girl really did exist in the concentration camp; the freshly drowned girl wears red shoes, likely an allusion to the little girl in Spielberg's Shindler's List; first images of characters on film are critical and when we first meet Max Von Sydow's German therapist, he's got his back turned to us (classic film vocabulary for a character presenting a false persona) and he's gazing into a fire, suggesting both the devil and Holocaust fires; we're introduced to Ben Kingsley's character similarly, seeing on his office walls pictures of torture devices before he explains them away as bygone methods he doesn't subscribe to; Teddy's cigarettes go missing and his partner is the one providing them from then on; when his partner gets sopping wet, an attendant is there to offer him TWO different fresh packs of smokes; the 67 patient total would be the wrong number if we must subtract the “imaginary” persons that Teddy's “delusional” mind invented; the anagram names make less sense as an explanation to Scorsese's audience about the unlikely workings of Teddy's subconscious mind and more sense as a method employed by the doctors to convince Teddy his insane mind manufactured names that just so happen to work as anagrams; at the very the end, Teddy's primary is startled enough by Teddy's philosophical remark to inadvertently call out to him in the movie's last line of dialogue, “Wait, Teddy” (oops!), the wrong name; how could Teddy's hallucination of the missing patient/doctor by the cave fire inform Teddy that Island doctors use an icepick (which is visually confirmed behind the warden's back at film's end) to perform lobotomies; how could Teddy, in 1954, have hallucinated taking part in a mass murder of nazis that only years later became recognized historical fact? On and on. Can't wait to watch this one again. Mulholand Drive's intricate game of when is it illusion and when is it reality is Scorsese's clear inspiration here. One day Mulholand and Shutter may be seen as early ventures into a complex new genre blending noir mystery and surrealism into psychological exposé's full of worthwhile themes that reward repeated viewing. Hope that's helpful. – film critic, retired

  11. actually, the island is off the coast of Washington, Puget Sound Area.
    (Leo is stationed in Seattle and Mark is stationed in Portland)
    Good review though, my sentiments exactly. I was impressed in that I had figured the twist by the end of the first act, but the ending still managed to “work” for me on an entertainment/enjoyment/satisfaction level. Dav

  12. That's two hours of my life I'll never get back…couldn't think about seeing this crap twice. And to think I was excited to see it.

  13. this site erased my comment so i'll say it again. You must be a horrible critic if you give a higher rating to wolfman from shutter island, where there is really no comparison. These reviews can shape ones mind so they need to have more qualified people reviewing this.

  14. Thanks “remingtondahl” for this review….;)))

  15. I agree with Rikos. To rate the wolfman higher than Shutter Island is an absolute embarassment. Are you kidding me?

  16. I just wanted to say I just watched this show and I wanted to tell anyone who would listen ,that this show took me back to a time when movies were an amazing suspenceful expirience that takes you along for the ride and leaves you thinking about it for the next few days,and truthfully I was left a little emotional at the end .Amazing show ,beautifully done.I wish all movies were done with the care and effort this one was done ,not like alot of the crap they pawn off on us and leave us asking our selves ,what else could i have done with 2 hours that I will NEVER
    get back.
    -and on a side note he was not labotomized (you weren`t watching or listening close enough) he was put to death , please watch the ending again -start where he goes up to the litehouse.

  17. raelynn123

    that's for the spoiler thread to talk about not here.

    spoilers*****************************

    but who said he was being put to death? he was to be lobotomized at the end of the movie. that's where they were taking him.

  18. Hey, Smart guy, we have different reviewers working on the site. If you want a comparison, I would've rated the Wolfman 3 stars.

    Ask Vic (since he reviewed The Wolfman) what he would've given Shutter Island.

  19. Again: TWO DIFFERENT REVIEWERS = TWO DIFFERENT OPINIONS OF FILM.

    And reviews aren't meant for comparisons. A reviewer rates a film by his/her standards and takes each film as it comes. It's not and exact science.

  20. I understand Kofi but I loved the movie so much I was shocked at the rating. You can always tell how good a movie is by the reactions you get afterwards and if it gets people talking. Take a look at the spoilers thread – 950 comments and going…

  21. FYI the only time I delete a comment is if:

    A. It has excessive amounts of foul language.

    B. It personally attacks a writer or fellow commenter.

    C. Is excessively and obviously rude.

    D. Is spam.

    I don't remember your comment but I'm betting it fell under B & C.

    Vic

  22. The whole reason they wanted to treat him quickly was because they wanted to put him to death,good grief …if I was watching a movie with you guys ,I would have pause it a explain it throughout the movie ,wouldn't I?….come on say it , admit it , you know its true.
    P.S …I'm pretty sure I have sat behind some of you in the theater , over heard ” whats going on now” and “did I miss something?”
    heheh

  23. i have no idea what you're talking about because i can't stand when people talk in the theater. but nice try. open your eyes and maybe watch it again. better yet, get yourself a copy of the script so they can spell it out for you.

  24. Okay , if in fact you are right ,please explain the very last line of the show….or go back to when he gets to the light house.

  25. The last line explains it all but I don't want to ruin it for everyone. This is a discussion for the spoilers thread. You can find the link above if you don't understand me.

  26. THIS WAS THE WORST MOVIE I HAVE EVER SEEN IT WAS A WASTE OF MY MONEY I SWEAR DO NOT SEE IT, IT WAS TERRRIBLE!!! THE ONLY PART THAT SCARED ME WAS WHEN HE SHIOT THE CHICK!!!

  27. No it wasn't. I left the theater saying that to but not as bad, then when you think about everything that happend like in the beginning when he lost his cigs his partner (working for the dr's) gave him some of his witch the woman in the cave said make you have headaches and all that stuff, and if you listen… the woman in the cave was the real woman they replaced with another an said she drowned her 3 kids, and in the other womans cell he found the note that said who is 67? when there is only 66 and at the end they try to make him believe he is that 67th patient, it was a pretty good movie after i thought it over for a while.

  28. Im looking forward to seeing this – I wasn't impressed with Gangs of New York – but I liked The Departed – so hopefully this will be like the latter movie. I do miss the classic work such as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Casino – Maybe Scorsese will go back to making movies like that again soon.

  29. Im looking forward to seeing this – I wasn't impressed with Gangs of New York – but I liked The Departed – so hopefully this will be like the latter movie. I do miss the classic work such as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Casino – Maybe Scorsese will go back to making movies like that again soon.

Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.


If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it.

Be Social, Follow Us!!