© 2010 Ray Wong
Set in 1954, Shutter Island is an intellectual, psychological thriller-drama that turns out to be something we don't quite expect.
US marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) arrive at Shutter Island, an intense-security hospital for the criminally insane off the coast of Massachusetts. They're investigating the disappearance of a murderess (Emily Mortimer) who escaped the night before. Under the supervision of Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the guards and medical staff are supposed to give Daniels the cooperation they need.
Soon, Daniels discovers clues that may indicate Cawley and his staff are hiding something. Daniels is not without a personal agenda, either. He takes on the case because he's looking for an inmate, Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas), who's an arsonist who set fire to Daniels' apartment and killed his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), and he discovers that Laeddis spent a few years on Shutter Island before he, too, disappeared. In his dreams, Dolores appeals to Daniels to find Laeddis and kill him for her.
A storm makes it impossible for anyone to get to and off the island. Within the confinement, Daniels begins to unravel, believing that Cawley is onto him. He also believes that Cawley and his wardens are conducting human experiments on the patients, much like the Nazis did (Daniels was a soldier during the war, and went through horrific situations while liberating Dachau). He begins to distrust everyone around him, including Chuck.
Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road) has always been an intense actor (even in his lighter films such as Catch Me If You Can). Here, he plays the skeptical US marshal with credibility (even though his "baby face" continues to be a distraction). As the plot progresses and the character unravels, DiCaprio has a firm grip of the emotions. He's given a solid performance.
Mark Ruffalo (Where the Wild Things Are) also gives an understated performance as Daniels' amiable and trusting partner. Through his character, we start to wonder if there is indeed a conspiracy, or if it's all in Daniels' head. Ben Kingsley (Fifty Dead Men Walking) is perfect as Dr. Cawley, the authoritative figure who also gives us the creeps.
Michelle Williams (Mammoth) is fine as Daniels' deceased wife, Dolores. She appears mostly in Daniels' dreams or as a ghostly vision. Her portrayal reflects the sadness and longing for Daniels. Emily Mortimer (Lars and the Real Girl) and Patricia Clarkson (Cairo Time) plays the same character, Rachel, but differently -- the first Rachel is an insane murderess who drowned her three children, and the second Rachel is the one who actually escaped. Both Mortimer and Clarkson are excellent in their roles.
Adapted from Dennis Lehane's (Mystic River) psychological thriller, the script by Laeta Kalogridis (Pathfinder) is taut and suspenseful. The twists and turns of the plot follow rather closely to the novel, and Lehane is a master in weaving mysteries and thrills. The dialogue and characters are quite memorable. That said, the script relies on a few unnecessary dream sequences, visions, and flashbacks that, in my opinion, dampen the experience and reveal too much for those who are observant. Granted, the writers are supposed to leave enough clues for the audiences, but I think some of the clues are simply too on the nose and obvious. Within the context of the story, I think less is more. Not to mention some of these sequences don't really move things along. They drag.
Shutter Island is Martin Scorsese's (The Departed) first major film in four years. His direction is masterful, especially as an atmospheric piece. The way he uses lighting, shadows, colors and camera angles is truly exceptional. The images are haunting and the pace is good. He also decided against using an original score: instead, the score includes mostly traditional and contemporary classical pieces.
Still, this is far from being Scorsese's best film. Sometimes he lingers, and sometimes the editing is rather choppy. The dream sequences seem excessive (thought well done). However, I enjoyed the film very much. The performance and direction are top-notch. The atmosphere is exceptional. The imageries are haunting, and the psychological aspects of the film is thought-provoking.
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Laeta Kalogridis (based on novel by Dennis Lehane)
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.5 out of 10