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Review: ''Shutter Island''


Martin Scorsese's grandly theatrical Shutter Island is a showy, arresting movie - an example of a master filmmaker's bringing all his toys to material another director might have taken more seriously. Fans of Dennis Lehane's novel, scrupulously adapted by screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, will find the fiendishly complicated story essentially intact: In 1954, U.S. marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) investigate the disappearance of a prisoner at an asylum for the criminally insane on a remote island.

But the tone and mood of Shutter Island are different on the screen from on the page - the shadows darker than you imagined, the violence more ghastly, the blood redder. Shutter Island may have been conceived by Lehane, but the movie is Scorsese's show all the way. When a character says "God loves violence. Why else would we have so much of it in us?" he might as well be talking about Scorsese's entire canon.


For a thriller, Shutter Island is unusually heavy on exposition. Teddy has a tragic, complicated past that includes the death of his wife (Michelle Williams) in a fire set by an arsonist and his participation in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, where he saw things that left irreparable scars. Scorsese uses flashbacks and dream sequences to fill us in on Teddy's life, and some - such as a long panning shot of Nazi soldiers being executed - rank among the best set pieces of his career.

The rest of the movie is not quite up to that level. Shutter Island eventually gets so complicated that a character must sketch a quick summation on a blackboard - the result of a plot-driven movie by a director interested primarily in observing human behavior. Scorsese isn't emotionally connected to this material the way he was plugged into The Departed and Goodfellas and Raging Bull. Instead, he seems to be out to explore the conventions of the horror genre, as in Cape Fear, and to pay homage to his heroes while coming up with a few new tricks.


A lot of Val Lewton spookiness permeates Shutter Island, along with a strong Hitchcockian undertone (emphasized by some beautifully artificial process shots) about the realities people sometimes invent when they can't deal with their own. This is DiCaprio's fourth collaboration with Scorsese and, in many ways, the most intense and taxing, given that the actor plays a tortured, haunted man who must hold our attention even though we don't come to understand him until the movie's closing moments.

The more Teddy investigates the shady goings on at the asylum, which is presided over by a not-always-cooperative doctor (Ben Kingsley), the more convinced he becomes that things are not as they appear. Why do the institution's guards seem to itch for any excuse to use their weapons? What is the meaning of the puzzling note the missing prisoner left behind in her cell? Could the staff be conducting medical experiments on the patients? And why does a hurricane have to bear down on the island in the middle of Teddy's investigation?


Everything but the freak weather pattern is satisfactorily resolved by the end of Shutter Island, and the hurricane gives Scorsese the chance to stage several scenes in which the lightning, wind and rain thrash in the background. You've never seen a dark and stormy night quite like this one. Aided considerably by a score of sinister classical music supervised by Robbie Robertson - a score that makes you fear something awful is always about to happen - Shutter Island is popcorn entertainment polished to an unusually high sheen. Yes, you could argue the movie is simply a mood piece. But what a mood.


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there's no robertson score. he was the music supervisor on this show. the music in the film is a collection of various tracks from different composers. very much in the tradition of scorsese using pre recorded material for his films.

Rene Rodriguez

Thanks for the info. I will fix that right now.


Is Robert De Niro in this movie? I saw the preview, and I swear he looked like the guy with the big stitch across his face....If so, then im definately watching this on friday!


That wasn't De Niro. It's Elias Koteas. Although he does look a lot like him in the trailers.


Rene Rodriguez is the worst movie critic ever! I have foundout that when he says a movie is bad it is a good movie and vice versa!


To mick - I don't know if that's true; however, in this case, you're very wrong. According to Rotten Tomatoes, out of 36 professional critic reviews, the film has garnered 25 "fresh" votes, which means positive.


mick is the worst commenter ever! I have foundout that when he comments he adds absolutely nothing to the conversation nor does he back up his nebulous complaints! also he doesnt use punctuation unless it is an exclamation point!

I'm really looking forward to this one. I've been craving a good thriller, and if it stays true to the book, then it's going to be great.

can't fight this feeling anymore

When you hand material like this to someone like Scorcese, it's always going to be good. I agree w/ Rene's assessment. In the end, it's just moody popcorn fun, but definitely worth seeing - even if you've already read the book. Great cast, too.

Love the Books & the Flicks & the chicks!

The book itself is just plain, good, fun entertainment. I am glad that the script will be faithful to the book. Love Scorcese and thouroghly ejoyed the book, so I look forward to a great movie going experience.

Mick, absolute statements, like the one about Rene, make you look like an absolute fool.

Rene, I don't always agree with you, but always enjoy your reviews. Don't let the haters/trolls get you down.

OC Dolphin

Nice review, Rene

Haven't read the novel and don't know anything about the movie other than what I've seen on the trailers.

Having said that, when one combines a director of Scorsese's caliber, along with a Hitchcok theme, this can only mean that the DiCaprio character is actually a patient on the island living out some kind of delusion.

Hope I'm wrong, but nothing really surprises me anymore (too many movies I guess). Haven't been caught off guard with an ending since The Sting and The Crying Game.


Gotta agree about the hurricane part. It's such a tight movie otherwise, but there's no logical reason for it? Was it a real hurricane, or was it fake? Either way it doesn't add much to the plot.

Displaced Cane

For those who thought the movie wasn't "tight", watch it a second time. Everything -- I mean EVERYTHING -- is explained (even the storm). Scorsese's attention to detail is amazing.

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