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Shutter Island

A 2010 thriller directed by Martin Scorsese.

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Mystery/Thriller-lite film largely worth the effort

  • Jun 11, 2010
Pros: Visuals, pacing, story

Cons: Maybe too long for its genre, twist might be too obvious

The Bottom Line: You have to like DiCaprio since it is all Leo all the time.  If that doesn't bother you and you're fond of mysteries, this will likely be worth the time.

I read the novel and was impressed by Scorsese’ interpretation, so the review will include some specific praise about this which will contain spoilers.

Shutter Island is a mystery/thriller-lite movie, so I tread a very thin line with regards to what I can say about the plot, so, I’m going to cut to the chase, and begin with the recommendation section before anything else.

Obviously rating the film as 4 stars, I generally recommend it, but there are several conditionals that should help decide whether to invest the time. Time is first, usually this kind of film runs about a hundred minutes, Shutter Island clocks at almost two and a half hours. Along with the length, it requires fairly careful attention or the last thirty or so minutes will be too chaotic to untie. You have to like or at least vaguely respect Leonardo DiCaprio (Teddy Daniels) because the film revolves entirely around him; the supporting cast is just that. If you like Scorsese for his gangster/mob/grit stories, then this will disappoint. I’m not a Scorsese fan, specifically because I don’t like his gangster etc flicks, but Shutter Island is an entirely different sort of film; it is a pretty movie (more on this in the general, but plot-spoiling praise below). If you don’t like any of these items, then it is likely you would feel like the movie was a waste of time; otherwise … if the day is threatening rain, it can be in the top three or so movies you keep for that occasion.

Teddy Daniels is a US Martial sent, with his new partner, Chuck, to Shutter Island to try to help find an escaped patient. Shutter Island is a distant small rock in Boston Harbor. Originally built as a fort but never quite used for that function, it is now a heavily fortified hospital for the criminally insane. Teddy and Chuck have been sent to locate and return a delusional patient. A hurricane level storm is heading toward Boston Harbor so it is Teddy’s desire to find the woman, return her, then return home. . . maybe that is the order of events.

Teddy and Chuck meet the main psychiatrist, Dr Cawley, who gives the officers the details they need to get started. It becomes very obvious very early that the story they’ve been given is either a series of outright lies or a series of lies intended to cover butts for a potential investigation. As you would expect, the more the Martials dig, the more ambiguous things become. Ultimately, their job is not complete before the storm hits isolating them in all respects since radio communication goes out during the storm.

We discover that Teddy purposely kept an eye on any assignment to Shutter Island due to a personal tragedy: his wife was allegedly killed in a fire started by an arsonist. So Teddy really doesn’t mind waiting out the storm because it gives him time to determine if the firebug is onsite and possibly have a bit of vengeance on the Fed’s nickel.

Ashcliffe is a mental hospital, a very isolated one. The longer Teddy and Chuck stay the murkier everything becomes. Suspicion breeds distrust breeds rumors breeds a dangerous confusion.

DiCaprio is good but not quite the star quality I think he might have displayed in The Aviator. While this is not an ensemble piece, all of the other actors flesh out their characters as well as possible given their somewhat limited screen time. Mark (no one knows my age because I can be made to look from 13 to 130 with just a minimum of make-up) Ruffalo plays Chuck, whose main job is largely to be a quiet sounding board, smoothly. Ben Kingsley (Dr. Crawley) plays an only slightly kinder version of the torturer/doctor he played in Death and the Maiden. I’m pretty lukewarm when it comes to Sir Ben, but he wasn’t distracting. All others are strong enough that none stand out as upstaging any of the others or being noticeably flat.

How the movie was filmed is the primary reason I liked the film so much and leads to plot spoilers for both the book and the movie.

Shutter Island is a complicated ruse. Dr. Crawley enlists the entire population of the island in reconstructing “Teddy”’s fantasy he created after murdering his wife. For the length of the film, everyone is play acting their normal selves by pretending that they don’t actually know him (except for Chuck who is one of his doctors). The way they interact with him, the paranoid distance they maintain, is seamless. A friend who saw it with me but didn’t read the book picked up on that cue very early (I must admit that if I hadn’t read the book, I would likely have been snowed since it did seem so ‘realistic’ to me).

The film is set in the late 1950s. It was very common for films of that time to be shot almost entirely on a sound –stage, even films with wide scenic backgrounds. That someone with Scorsese’s CV would not only use fake backgrounds, but make it so obvious, is not an accident. It is the cinematic version of the role play; it creates a visual imbalance that nags. While falling for the play acting, the cinematic choice would telegraph the twist. I don’t consider that a bad thing, though. For me it is sort of a reward for paying attention.


Movie Mood: Serious Movie

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More Shutter Island (movie) reviews
review by . February 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
3 ½ + Stars: INTO THE DEPTHS of a Fractured Mind...Lies Denial and Guilt
   The last time I remember watching a Martin Scorsese directed pure suspense thriller was some years ago with the remake of “Cape Fear”. This time around, the acclaimed director together with screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis adapts the novel “Shutter Island” for the big screen. I haven’t read the book but I can safely say (according to my research) that fans of the book will be glad to know that the book’s basic outline is intact with only one scene added …
review by . March 01, 2010
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Shutter Island Movie Delivers Confusion, Suspense, and an Extremely Poignant Ending
   I am not a fan of Martin Scorsese, and I went into the movie not knowing that he was the director. I also saw this film without having first read the book. Despite these circumstances, I did enjoy the movie which offered endless turns, twists, and confusing scenes into the past of the main character played by Leonardo DiCaprio.      The opening sequence was brief and basic. There was the title Shutter Island in bold gray letters, and then the film started, which …
review by . July 02, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Rofolo are Federal Marshalls that arrive by ferry at Shutter Island.  This is a correctional facility for the criminally insane.  They were sent to investigate the escape of one of the "patients" in the facility.  On the way there DiCapprio seems to be seasick and at times he seems to be seeing weird things.  He keeps having visions and dreams of his dead wife and things that happened around a Nazi concentration camp.   …
review by . July 22, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Martin Scorsese's one of the world's greatest directors. Leonardo DiCaprio's one of the world's greatest actors, possibly the best of our generation, in my opinion. Wait. This is all my opinion.      Anyway, when they collaborate, it's never anything less than phenomenal. This is another of those instances. This film is beautiful. Aesthetically pleasing, and emotionally engaging.      I've heard a lot of criticism of the twist ending, …
review by . March 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
How far are you willing to fall down the rabbit hole?  What would you do if you started hearing voices that weren't really there? How would you react if you saw something standing before you that you knew all too well could not and/or does not exist?  Psychological thrills toy with your senses and allow your mind to fall down some of the deepest, darkest holes that exist without any real affect.  Some times they are wildly successful, and other times they become a joke all on …
review by . December 10, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Ghosts and demons
The setting: 1954. A deliciously forboding rocky island 11 miles from Boston, home to a mental institution for the worst of America's criminally insane. The plot: Two federal marshals arrive as a storm is brewing, to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. It soon becomes clear to the cops that it's not just the patients who are spinning tales around here. The ambience: Gloomy, gothic, and menacing. Cast and characters: Leonardo DeCaprio as senior investigator Teddy Daniels, …
review by . January 11, 2011
Shutter Island - 2010
Pros: DiCaprio and Scorsese, a great duo      Cons: none for me      The Bottom Line:    "Lord, this bitter earth   Yes, can be so cold   Today you're young   Too soon, you're ol"   ~Dinah Washington      The Movie:   Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are U. S. Marshalls, traveling to Shutter Island, off the Boston coast, to find an escapee.  Shutter Island houses …
review by . February 24, 2010
Step trhough the gates of Ashcliffe and into a place of pure madness and chaos....
Have you ever had a dream that was impossible to wake up from, you felt like you were falling and falling   but you never seemed to hit the ocean below. Sometimes in our lives, we hit such a point in our lives that everything seems unreal to us that were just living a big dream   day in and day out. Martin Scorsese's psychological horror thriller "Shutter Island" explores those ideas and how sometimes even when everything in our life may seem out of place, may seem …
review by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
What Pompted You to write a Review?   A survey     How was the Plot, Acting, Direction?   The plot and acting in this movie was outstanding.  One of Leo's best movies by far.     Were You ENTERTAINED?   I was on the edge of my seat the whole time while watching this movie, and it kept my attention throughout the whole movie.     Did It Fulfill Expectations? Hype Level?   This movie surprised me as well …
review by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
   Shutter Island is one of the most well crafted psychological thrillers to come by since Silence Of The Lambs. And it is no coincidence both were brilliantly written novels. Shutter Island is adapted by a book written by Dennis Lehane (wrote gone baby, gone and mystic river). It is a book filled with twists and turns, that will leave the reader dizzy. And, that is what it's film counterpart does to the fullest. Martin Scorsese helms the director chair, in a movie where he is more …
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About this movie


Shutter Island is a 2010 thriller-period drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Production started in March 2008. Shutter Island was originally slated to be released on October 2, 2009, but Paramount pushed the release date to February 19, 2010.  Paramount head executive Brad Grey blamed the recent economic downturn as the main decision behind the delayed release date.

     Poster art for "Shutter Island."

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Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Mystery
Release Date: February 19, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
Studio: Paramount Pictures
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