Shutter Island (2010)

  Martin Scorsese 

Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprioEmily MortimerMark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley
Plot:  Drama is set in 1954, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels is investigating the disappearance of a murderess who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and is presumed to be hiding on the remote Shutter Island.

  Mystery / Thriller
  NC16 for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.

Martin Scorsese has made his Vertigo.  Just like Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest film (in my opinion), Shutter Island will go down as one of Scorsese’s best works, a masterpiece of storytelling and direction.  In this review, I will include a discussion (that may include potential spoilers) of two key films which have influenced Shutter Island – the above-mentioned Vertigo (1958) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).

Scorsese is a master filmmaker who knows what he can do, and in Shutter Island he has made his most commercial film yet and he does so without sacrificing on the high cinematic quality and dedicated craftsmanship that have defined most of his pictures since his breakthrough in the 1970s with Mean Streets (1973).

Shutter Island is a psychological thriller of the highest order.  Scorsese blends elements of Gothicism, B-movie horror, and noir into a storyline best described as a labyrinth of twists and turns with a resolution so powerfully thought-provoking (and unsettling) that it demands a second viewing to fully admire and embrace what Scorsese has accomplished.

The film’s final line “is it better to live as a monster or to die as a good man?” as calmly questioned by Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) before he is voluntarily led to his death reveals a great level of ambiguity that is up to one’s own interpretation.

DiCaprio’s first-rate performance ought to land him a fourth acting Oscar nomination.  He transforms himself into Teddy, a sane person bordering on psychopathic tendencies (or a mental wreck trying to grasp at every last bit of sanity).  DiCaprio is joined by two remarkable supporting actors in Ben Kingsley (Dr. Cawley) and Max von Sydow (Dr. Naehring), both of whom outshine Mark Ruffalo (Chuck Aule) whose average performance is the film’s weakest aspect.

The first shot of the ferry emerging from the white mist, and later, shots of Shutter Island accompanied by an ominous classical score with strong motifs eerily echo the introduction to The Shining.  Shutter Island’s suspenseful build-up to the arrival on the island helps to cast a shadow of looming evil onto the place, and just like the Overlook hotel in Kubrick’s film, it feels like it has a ghastly character of its own.  Scorsese’s decision to shoot in full widescreen format pays dividends as he successfully brings a high level of immersiveness to the picture.

It is well-documented that Scorsese is a firm admirer of the great Hitchcock.  Here he “copies” visual cues from Vertigo and to great effect if I may add.  More interestingly, DiCaprio’s character mirrors that of James Stewart’s in Vertigo.  Both obsess over a woman (albeit with different reasons) and seek to uncover the truth behind an apparent conspiracy. Both have psychological liabilities and are “cured” by the end of the film.

In Shutter Island, the finale is devastating.  But what comes before – the twists and turns of the story, and the mind-boggling alternations between dreams, nightmares, and reality – is simply a tour de force in the skillful manipulation of our consciousness.

Shutter Island could be Scorsese’s most commercially successful film ever (though I am rooting for his next project, Hugo (2011) to beat this).  I feel that Shutter Island is the defining work of Scorsese’s “new renaissance” period which started with Gangs of New York (2002).

It is still premature to say this but it has a distinct possibility of ranking in the top five when I compile my top ten films of 2010 in eleven months’ time.  In years to come, this masterpiece will be regarded as a special work in his oeuvre just as The Shining was to fans of Kubrick. Highly recommended.


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