Directed by Martin Scorsese
Before seeing Shutter Island, all I knew about the plot was that it revolved around two U.S. marshals investigating the disappearance of an escaped mental patient on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. The lack of information is an effective marketing strategy that should be employed far more often, as it increases word of mouth and creates a strong buzz that normally wouldn’t accompany a movie that had spilled all its beans in several trailers (i.e. The Wolfman).
Keeping in mind that I can’t divulge too much about the plot because it would ultimately ruin your viewing experience, I can tell you that Scorsese adapted Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name particularly well, especially in weaving back and forth between different elements of the story. With a non-linear narrative as complex as this one, a novice director could have really missed the mark by foreshadowing too much and too early, but thankfully we’re dealing with Martin Scorsese here, a veteran who chooses to feed us bits and pieces when he sees fit.
His trusty muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, delivers one of his greatest performances to date. DiCaprio is truly believable as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, a family man and war veteran with a troubled past, most of which is explained through deftly placed flashbacks. As he and his partner (the almost equally brilliant Mark Ruffalo) investigate the crime, we truly realize how devoted DiCaprio became to this character. Frequent close-ups of his face illustrate DiCaprio’s rightful place among today’s most versatile actors.
Speaking of versatility, the island’s chief administrator (Dr. Crawley) is played by the always brilliant Ben Kingsley, who would be my initial choice if ever I had to choose the ideal poker partner. His deceitful ways has the two marshals running around the island looking for answers, many of which are not acquired easily. Dr. Crawley seems compliant at first, and a lot would suggest he is, but there’s something just not quite right about him. Kingsley’s composure prevents us from putting our finger on it.
What is also enjoyable about this movie, besides the myriad of amazing performances, is the confined setting with which Scorsese chooses to focus his attention. As an island completely detached from the outside world, with no communication and very little transportation opportunities to or from the mainland, Scorsese is able to explore the various nooks and crannies that the island has to offer. This is where shades of Hitchcock are most apparent, and where Scorsese’s talent for crafting a psychological thriller is best in evidence.
One extremely important aspect of the film, its score, plays a prominent role in setting the mood during the most vital moments. Music supervisor and long-time Scorsese collaborator Robbie Robertson hand-picked a collection of classical compositions and combines the right sound with the right scene, time after time. A particular ‘loop’ of four identical notes, performed on violin, is used throughout the movie on several occasions but its most effective use is in the second scene, as DiCaprio and Ruffalo set foot on the island. This seemingly effortless sequence is at once unobtrusive and spine-chilling.
At times this movie might remind you of particular scenes in Mean Streets or Cape Fear, but in the end it really cannot be compared to anything else Scorsese has created. Therefore, it must be judged on its own merits, and by that process it truly deserves high praise: not only for the genius of its slow and teasing delivery, but for retaining its integrity until the very last scenes. You might get a glimpse of foreshadowing halfway through the movie, but the last twenty minutes will have you gripping your seat in awe as the tantalizing twist finally unfolds.
Shutter Island is definitely begs a second viewing, and while it might not rank up there with earlier Scorsese classics, it remains a masterpiece in my eyes, and a production that has set the new standard for all future psychological thrillers.
- Myles Dolphin