Atmospheric and Involving
Writing a review about Shutter Island presents an almost insurmountable obstacle. Telling very much about the plot could spoil this mystery movie for potential viewers. Therefore, I’ve decided to focus on the film’s performances and production values. Fortunately, Martin Scorsese’s atmospheric thriller receives high marks in both areas.
Playing Teddy, a troubled U.S. marshal trying to find a dangerous mental asylum patient, Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond) delivers one of the best performances of his illustrious career. From the first scene showing Teddy suffering from seasickness, we feel for him. And, because of DiCaprio’s stressed facial expressions, we suspect Teddy is down in the dumps for more reasons than his physical illness. As the film progresses, DiCaprio projects such agony in so many situations it becomes painful to watch his character, especially in sequences involving his dead wife (Michelle Williams). But we simply have to keep our eyes on him. I believe that without DiCaprio in this role, Shutter Island might have turned out to be just an average thriller. Because of him, it’s spellbinding.
Providing strong support for DiCaprio here are Mark Ruffalo (Just Like Heaven), John Carroll Lynch (Love Happens), Ben Kingsley (House of Sand and Fog), and Emily Mortimer (Dear Frankie). Ruffalo captures our attention in a role requiring considerable sensitivity; Kingsley makes us wonder about the motives of the psychiatrist he portrays; the always reliable Lynch gives a no-nonsense performance as a deputy warden; and Mortimer frightens us in a couple of dream sequences about a mother who kills her three children. Max Von Sydow (Minority Report) and Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent) also stand out in their brief time on camera as a confrontational German psychiatrist and an apparently rational woman hiding from everyone on Shelter Island, respectively.
Gothic in its visual presentation of a 1950s mental institution, Shutter Island boasts ominous settings, startling special effects and moody cinematography. Promising dark secrets lurking inside its walls, the asylum looks even more foreboding than Alcatraz. This gloomy location evokes enough suspense on its own, so the film’s overpowering background music isn’t needed -- and, in fact, even distracts us during a few chilling scenes.
Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, Shutter Island mixes such diverse elements as the Holocaust, criminal behavior, psychological experiments, insanity treatments, hallucinations, dreams, drugs and guilt. Of course, my lips are sealed concerning how Scorsese (The Departed) and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis (Pathfinder) tie everything together. Sometimes it doesn’t make complete sense, but if you enjoy films like Hitchcock’s Spellbound, this thriller is a must-see.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “R” for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.)
For more information about Shutter Island, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.