Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: Shutter Island

Shutter Island is not the fast-paced thriller I thought it would be – it’s actually something much better.  But that’s not particularly surprising considering Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio – the team that made The Aviator and The Departed such memorable films – are behind it.  Par for the course, Scorsese and DiCaprio have created a moody, memorable film that haunts the viewer long after its over.

The story begins with U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his newly assigned partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) taking a ferry to Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital, a mental facility for the criminally insane, where a dangerous patient has recently disappeared.  As Teddy investigates what appears to be a strangely convoluted case, made worse by his chronic migraines and recurring nightmares, a hurricane hits the island and all hell breaks loose.

However, it’s an eerily controlled, chillingly calm kind of hell.  Shutter Island moves at its own pace, and those looking for quick thrills and cheap scares probably won’t be satisfied.  This movie’s scares are the kind that sneak up on you slowly and linger in your bones, making you feel uneasy even when you think you should be relaxed.  Shutter Island is full of a much more pervasive kind of terror than most contemporary thrillers.

The so-called “twist” at the end of the movie is hardly a revelation, and most will see it coming from the beginning, but that doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things. Much like Mystic River, which was also based on a Dennis Lehane novel, Shutter Island relies almost exclusively on characters to drive the story forward.  Luckily DiCaprio, who carries the bulk of the film’s weight on his shoulders, does a fantastic job with his role.  As in The Departed, DiCaprio plays an agitated, edgy character with impressive emotional intensity.

In fact, nearly everyone puts forth a solid performance in this film.  Most notably, Ben Kingsley does an excellent job as the shifty Dr. Cawley, while Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, and Jackie Earle Haley all stand out in smaller parts.

The look and style of the film is interesting, bringing to mind old mystery and gothic films (especially when coupled with music by Krzysztof Penderecki, whose classical pieces are heard in both The Shining and The Exorcist), but DiCaprio’s hallucinations and dream sequences make up some of the most compelling and sinister scenes.  These scenes, along with many small and well-placed touches throughout the rest of the movie, do well to completely disorient and confuse, forcing the viewer to constantly second-guess what’s real and what isn’t.  By the end of the movie, one may still be left wondering.

Shutter Island seems to be the kind of movie that opens itself up more and more with multiple viewings.  There’s so much to take in the first time, it almost begs to be rewound and watched again. I can't wait to do so.

Final Rating (out of 5):

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