February 22, 2010

Shutter Island

shutterisland2_largeNo sooner has the movie begun that it begins to cast its spell. Martin Scorsese wastes no time in forcing Shutter Island under skin. As it digs its way through soft flesh it gets the body to tense up. I was put on edge as the insistent, doom driven musical notes welcome you to what is to come.  Those opening moments are very effective. Atmosphere is built through insistent musical notes, the foreboding image of the island appearing out of the mist, the uneasy look on the face of our heroes face, the non-traditional angles, not to mention you are being escorted into the mouth of a mental hospital for the criminally insane. It did not take long at all for the movie to capture my mind and my attention.

Shutter Island is a thriller based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) and it has been brought to the screen in grand fashion. The film has had an interesting production history. At one point it was being developed for directer David Fincher with Brad Pitt and Mark Wahlberg starring. Another attempt had Wolfgang Peterson lined up to direct. Fortunately, those plans all fell apart leaving the project to Martin Scorsese. He took on the project and has delivered an endlessly entertaining film that plays with your mind without you even knowing it. Evey frame is electrifying. Be careful you don't get hurt.

Leonardo Dicaprio is Teddy Daniels, a US Marshal sent to investigate the escape of child-murderer at the Ashecliffe facility on Shutter Island. We pick up with him, suffering from a case of seasickness on a ferry with his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). They arrive on the island and set about their investigation.


However, all is not as it seems. The more Teddy tries to find out, the more roadblocks appear in his way. Before long, Teddy is frustrated, seemingly running in circles as the pieces are not adding up and those who requested his presence of not seem to be terribly forthcoming with any helpful information. The deeper Teddy goes down the rabbit hole, the darker and more dangerous it gets.

This is a film that benefits by knowing as little as possible going in. Once you are in, enjoy the ride, but be sure to pay attention to the details. Even then, you will surely be caught off guard. Martin Scorsese has crafted a smart thriller that takes its time revealing itself to you while simultaneously ratcheting up the suspense at every turn. I swear, there is not a dull moment to be found.

Shutter Island chips away at the edges of reason until there is nothing left but questions. It toys with you, giving you what appears to be a simple mystery on the surface yet reveals itself to be something much more insidious. What is real? What isn't? Is it possible to know the truth? I feel the needed facts are there, waiting to be uncovered, but there are still multiple ways of interpreting said facts leading to a conclusion that is little more open than you may think.


Leonardo Dicaprio is our unreliable guide into this dangerous world. He delivers one of the strongest performances of his career. His Teddy is subtle and nuanced as much as he is quick to action and intense. We learn that Teddy is a World War II veteran with a drinking habit and a quick fist. We also learn ulterior motives for his wanting to go to Shutter Island. Through it all, Dicaprio delivers the emotional weight and physical presence needed to make us believe in the character.

It does not hurt whtat he is surrounded by the likes of Ben Kingsley as the head doctor with Max Von Sydow as a possible Nazi scientist at his side. Then there are Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson in very memorable roles. However, the one man who will haunt me more than any other in this film is Jackie Earle Haley. His performance is nothing more than a cameo, but what he does, what he manages to do is nothing short of astounding.

Without a doubt Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis deliver much more than I had been expecting. I love how every scene brings further into the film. This is film making at its finest. It is not necessarily Scorsese's finest work, but it definitely stands out among other releases of late. This is a thriller that hearkens back to the classic films of Hitchcock and Lang. The style has a very old school feel in the camera movements and the way the film is paced. I was enthralled until the final moments.

Bottomline. This is a standout film. It almost demands multiple viewings, I know I wanted to see it again as soon as it ended. It is gorgeous to look at, fascinating to absorb and will keep you guessing. This is a film made by a director who knows exactly what he is doing and with an actor who keeps getting better. This is not to be missed.

Highly Recommended.

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