When the release date of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island was pushed back, I started to panic a little. Postponing a much-anticipated film is usually not a good sign, particularly since the delay took Shutter Island out of the Oscar running. I entered the theater with managed expectations, and left feeling thoroughly satisfied. Though it's not Scorsese's finest, it's still a solid, engaging film — and the first truly good movie I've seen in 2010.
Don't let the promos fool you: Shutter Island is not a duck-and-cover horror movie. Sure, it has its share of creepy music, suspenseful moments, and harrowing scenes, but you'll be scratching your head more than covering your eyes. The movie is all DiCaprio, as US Marshal Teddy Daniels investigating an escape from Ashecliffe Hospital on Shutter Island (off the coast of Boston) in 1954. Backed by his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Daniels immediately runs into issues with Ashlecliffe's doctors and patients, and becomes convinced that there's a conspiracy hiding in the case. As Teddy grows more obsessed with revealing the truth, the line between sanity and insanity slowly grows blurred.
I promise not to give away any big spoilers, so just
The movie is loaded with old Hollywood thriller elements, almost to a tongue-in-cheek point. For starters, we've got two guys running around a hospital for the criminally insane (the only prison that's also a mental hospital), and they're on an island that only has one way off: a ferry. Naturally, the doctors seem to be hiding something and just when the detectives suspect foul play, a hurricane rolls in right on cue leaving them stuck among 66 mentally ill patients and caretakers who seem to have a hidden agenda.
In some ways, Shutter Island has Hitchcock written all over it, but I actually found myself drawing comparisons to some of Kubrick's work — and not just One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The film is hedged largely on Teddy's flashbacks to a tortured past: as he falls deeper into to the island's abyss, he begins having nightmares about his deceased wife (Michelle Williams) and his time spent serving the country in World War II. Teddy's visions are graphic, and often disturbing glimpses at his inner psyche, but Scorsese portrays the images with vivid colors and a delicate finesse that makes them quietly beautiful and reminiscent of Kubrick's storytelling.
Though I wonder what Kubrick may have done with the script, the film is still Scorsese's, and the director's reputation is both his blessing and his curse. Audiences will undoubtedly compare Shutter Island to Scorsese's body of work, and it likely won't live up to expectations set by films like The Departed and Gangs of New York. Though engaging, the movie never truly grabs the audience by the throat; it's intense, but those heart-pounding moments I was anticipating never showed up. The story itself is also not without its flaws: despite a fulfilling ending, the movie still has holes, unanswered questions, and sub plots that are unnecessarily nurtured.
Bottom line: Shutter Island is a creepy thriller that keeps the audience on its toes right until the final scene. It's a strong showing from Scorsese even if it's not his most memorable film.
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