Shutter Island

Shutter Island (DVD Cover)

Cast: Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), Dolores (Michelle Williams), Rachel (Patricia Clarkson)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Theatrical release: 02/19/2010
DVD Date: 06/08/2010

Rating: R
Running Time: 138 minutes

Note(s): Screenplay adapted from the novel Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane.

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Shutter Island

Review: I had high expectations for Shutter Island. Although I hadn't read the Dennis Lehane thriller from which it was adapted (and still haven't -- it's on my ever-longer to-be-read list), I was drawn to the storyline and the film's trailers really captured my imagination. A cast of A-list actors and an A-list director couldn't hurt ... or so I thought.

The film opens with US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) on a ferry traveling to Shutter Island, located off the New England coast and site of the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. A patient has somehow managed to escape, and Teddy, together with his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are sent to investigate. Once on the island, Teddy and Chuck are greeted by a staff that are outwardly helpful, but always seem to be holding something back. There is much about the island that defies explanation, and Teddy is determined to discover what exactly happened to the missing patient -- and more importantly, what is the real purpose of the hospital on Shutter Island.

The question I had to ask myself after watching this film is, how can a stellar cast performing in a first-rate story result in such a mediocre film? The only answer I could come up with was, heavy-handed, clumsy, indifferent, down-right poor direction. And that is really the core of what's wrong with Shutter Island. The pacing for a suspense thriller is all wrong, clues to what's happening on the island are far too obvious, and the twist -- and everyone knows there is one -- comes way too early, worse, is foreshadowed and not entirely unexpected, and when it happens, plays out far too slowly. And I'm guessing the director had at least something to do with the dreadful score that accompanies the film; I'm willing to believe that at least part of my dislike of the film was because I couldn't stand the background noise ... er ... music. (Side note: No original music was written for the film. Rather, excerpts from 20 or so modern pieces are used to set the mood. It's truly a discordant mess.)

Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo are brilliant as the US Marshals investigating the missing person on Shutter Island, with fine supporting performances by Ben Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson (among others). The look of the film is suitably gothic and atmospheric (though some of the special effects are, at best, amateurish). The plot is intriguing and, from what I know of the book, the screenplay follows the storyline fairly closely, and overall seems to be a tautly constructed thriller. Yet, what we see on the screen is anything but. Martin Scorsese may be a well-respected director, but he clearly has no idea how to direct a suspense film ... the remake of Cape Fear possibly excepted. Maybe he couldn't be bothered and phoned in his direction here. As much as people may disagree with me, I would have liked to have seen what M. Night Shyamalan would have done with this script; it's far more his kind of film, and I suspect he would have done a much better job with it.

I've seen the film twice now -- once in the theatre when it first came out, a second time on DVD -- and must say the soundtrack on the DVD isn't nearly as obnoxious as it is in the theatre, so there's something to be said for that. But is it worth the rental? Absolutely, especially for fans of low-key suspense thrillers with twisty plots. Still, Shutter Island isn't a great movie and you'll likely find it to be a better film if your initial expectation is set really quite low.


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