By Dave Campbell | February 19, 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer(s): Laeta Kalogridis, Steven Knight (screenplay), Dennis Lehane (Novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Elias Koteas, Jackie Earle Haley, Max von Sydow
The year is 1954…with his head in the toilet of a sea ferry we meet U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is on his way to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a female patient of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane off the Eastern Seaboard. On the ferry Teddy meets his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) for the first time as he struggles with sea sickness.
As they arrive they are greeted by the security, staff, and facility director Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) to learn the lacking details of Rachel Solando’s disappearance. She is believed to be loose somewhere roaming the rocky barren grounds of the island even though she was under constant surveillance when she supposedly vanished. At the same time a massive storm moves in on the island making for an even darker and eerie back drop. Daniels suspicions of the work that is being done on the island led by Dr. Cawley quickly grow as they uncover secrets of radical experimentation, horrifying surgeries and Cold War ties. Nothing and no one on Shutter Island is what it seems to be, as we dive into the mind of Daniels himself through his vibrantly bizarre dreams which star his recently deceased wife Dolores (Michelle Williams). Daniels finds a note left by Rachel Solando and must soon figure out what “the Law of 4” is and “Who is 67” before the madness of Ashecliffe traps him on Shutter Island.
Shutter Island is based on Dennis Lehane’s 2003 novel of the same name. You may also remember him as the author of Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone.
The performances in this film are compellingly strong with the supporting cast of Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Jackie Earle Haley, Max von Sydow and Michelle Williams really standing out even if their screen time was limited. Leonardo DiCaprio has yet again proven that he can comfortably lead a film, providing further evidence why he deserves to be Scorsese’s golden boy. I’ll be the first to admit that I had a hard time getting past the boyish charm and stature of DiCaprio in the 90’s, but for the last decade he has rightfully commanded my attention as a leading man in Hollywood.
The in-depth nature of this film required a lot from the extremely well cast list of actors. Though Shutter Island is probably not going to have the lasting weight of Scorsese films like Raging Bull, Goodfellas or The Departed, it does make a respectful addition to the varying catalog he has crafted. There were a couple of times I almost expected to see “The Man from Another Place” from Twin Peaks, as the dream environment very much felt like the “Black Lodge” from the TV series and Fire Walk With Me feature. Mind you that those elements only lasted for a brief moment, but it was present enough for me to notice. Regardless of this, Shutter Island is a pretty solid twisty thrill ride with very disturbing themes.
It’s refreshing to see a director of Scorsese’s stature and senior that still takes chances and goes outside of their relative comfort zones. Shutter Island may not be an Oscar worthy vehicle for Scorsese, but there’s nothing stale about his approach and continued practice of film making, even if a few tricks in this piece seem borrowed from his fellow director colleagues. With many nods to film noir, Shutter Island is a dark, mind bending work of classic pulp paired with the style and swagger you’d expect from Marty Scorsese.