Theatrical Review: Shutter Island

It’s shortly after World War II, and United States Federal Marshal, Edward “Teddy” Daniels and his new partner Chuck find themselves traveling to an island in the Boston Bay called Shutter Island that’s the home to a mental institution that houses the most extreme cases. One of the considered more dangerous patients has escaped their care, and now these two U.S. Marshals have been sent in to investigate, only there way more to Shutter Island than they realize.

Yeah, that description of the initial premise of Shutter Island is really cryptic. I don’t like to spoil movies at all, and hopefully here I still won’t though I’m afraid this review isn’t going to be favorable to Martin Scorsese’s newest movie. But still I don’t want to spoil it, for those that want to see it for themselves.

Now, Scorsese is certainly one of my favorite directors working today, and certainly considered one of the greatest overall working in films, but even the greatest have their failures, and unfortunately, Shutter Island doesn’t really hold up as well as most of Scorsese’s past movies.

The movie certainly looks great, and featuring some pretty exquisite production design by Dante Ferretti, certainly a veteran of making movies look terrific and authentic. That’s readily on display.

And there’s no faulting the terrific cast that’s been put together for this movie. This is Leonardo DiCaprio’s fourth outing with Martin Scorsese, and it’s easy to see why these two have developed a very good working relationship with each other- Scorsese’s movies always have much more going on beneath their surface and DiCaprio has certainly shown that he’s an actor who’s capable of showing much more than surface detail in his performances. DiCaprio is the star here, but he’s backed up with an A-list of talent, including Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams and Emily Mortimer. This also features Patricia Clarkson, Ted Levine, Elias Koteas and Jackie Earle Haley in some smaller but key roles into putting together what’s really going on here. And everyone here is good, no doubt about that, I expect they’re delivering exactly what Scorsese wants.

The fault here is in the script and in the very languid pace of the movie. Now I know this an adaptation of a novel (I’ve never read it), and as a novel, it’s unfolding probably works, but as it plays out here, and further because of the movie’s slow pace, it’s pretty easy to see what’s coming and that includes the “secret” of Shutter Island, and as such, it’s revelations don’t have too much impact, or at least they didn’t for me. Now this is being sold as a bit of suspense and a bit of horror, and certainly the trappings are there, but Scorsese has never really been known for fully delving into those realms and his movies more play out as some intense character studies, and that’s certainly the case with Shutter Island. And as a character study, this one is pretty loaded with detail, but because of being able to see where the “twist” was to this in the film’s first half, it’s left with no impact whatsoever.

Your own mileage may vary of course, and as far as I know, this might improve much more for me on a second viewing, but while I found this really well made from a production standpoint, and really well-performed it didn’t quite come together for me in such a way by it’s end where I really cared one way or the other, even though I still admire the detail that went into it.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

21. February 2010 by Darren Goodhart
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