Shutter Island (R) ★★★☆

A Suspenseful 1950s Mystery Thriller with an All Star Cast

Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in this mystery thriller based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. This is one instance where I recommend that you not read the book before you see the film as the film is better viewed when ‘in the dark’ regarding the ending. Almost every aspect of Shutter Island is perfect; from the amazing camera angles, flashbacks, suspenseful script and creepy setting to the exemplary directing by Scorsese of DiCaprio—which is the best performance so far of 2010.

The all star cast with a 1954 setting include Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall; Mark Ruffalo as his investigative partner Chuck Aule; Ben Kingsley plays the head psychiatrist Dr. Cawley; his co worker is Max von Sydow as Dr. Naehring; Dolores Daniels, Teddy’s wife, is played by Michelle Williams; a key patient in the hospital is Rachel 1, played by Emily Mortimer and Rachel 2 played by Patricia Clarkson. Academy Award nominee Jackie Earle Haley portrays the spine-chilling patient George Noyce.

Shutter Island is the primary setting for Ashcliffe Hospital, a facility for the criminally insane. Three buildings are noted upon arrival: ward A for women, ward B for men and ward C, an old fortress where the most dangerous of patients are housed. If you’re familiar with the frightening film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an Academy Award winning film with five Oscars including Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, the time frame is not too far off. Cuckoo’s Nest takes place in 1963, a mere nine years later when the practices of lobotomies were still the norm. The term is used inShutter Island rather loosely which adds to the suspense, feeling of dread and downright terror. Other barbaric methods of patient treatment are discussed in Shutter Island with the addition of Nazi-inspired brain experiments.

When Teddy Daniels arrives at Shutter Island with his partner Chuck Aule, he immediately spends an inordinate amount of time with Dr. Crawley and Dr. Naehring who set the background terror for the film. These meetings are interrupted by flashbacks of Teddy’s days as an American soldier liberating the Nazi death camp of Dachau and illusions of his wife Delores who died two years ago. Upon further investigation, Teddy and Chuck discover there is only one way off of the island and the doctors control who leaves and who stays. They also learn that the lighthouse is used for experimental brain operations lead by Dr. Crawley

Teddy begins to believe that he has been drugged as his hallucinations become more frequent and more intense. (The hallucinations are extremely bloody, violent and disturbing.) Scorsese accomplishes his goal of ‘utter terror’ as one has no idea where the film is going or what the outcome will be. During a torrential downpour on the island, Teddy and Crawley are separated which causes more anxiety and leads to an astonishing conclusion.

Shutter Island is a very well made film that captures the genre of mystery similar to the Twilight Zone episodes and the renowned Hitchcock films. The acting by DiCaprio is near the top of his game as I believe his performance in Blood Diamond and The Departed were both Oscar worthy. One can easily see why Scorsese continues his partnership as his protégée continues to soar with each film. The pretty boy image of DiCaprio is long gone and has been replaced by the image of a seasoned actor; although a line from the film serves as a remembrance. Patricia Clarkson portrays a doctor who attempts to inform Teddy of the shady goings on and she says to DiCaprio, “You’re smarter than you look Marshall and that’s a dangerous thing.” The audience at my screening laughed out loud as this was a welcomed line that broke the knuckle-biting tension of the majority of the film. 

Bottom-line, a superbly cast and directed film. My only objection is that the film is a bit long. I must also say that this is one of the best endings I’ve seen in a long time. You’ll be anxious to discuss this one so plan dinner and drinks after the movie.

Sarah Adamson © February 2010