Review by: Christopher Haskell
July 15, 2010
“Shutter Island” is a stunning masterpiece, requiring multiple viewings in order to appreciate all the levels of the film that are formed from the mastermind of Martin Scorsese.
Right off the bat, I was aware of the ending before I sat down to view the film for the first time. The first time through the film, I still wondered if I was absolutely sure the ending was what I was told. The way the film is element-ed together, you are never quite sure who you can trust and for once, this is what the director wanted (more on this in a moment).
Throughout the second viewing, I was absolutely disgusted. The continuity of the film stuck out to me like a sore thumb jabbing me the entire way. Every scene that cut between characters was poorly constructed and deeply disappointing to me. Not until I watched the special features and researched online the point of Scorsese’s madness, did I understand what he was going for.
The entire film of “Shutter Island” is told from the perspective of the untrustworthy Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient on Shutter Island with his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo). The island is home to a psychiatric care facility straight out of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.” Ben Kingsley plays Mr. Cawley, the head physician at the facility. In the matter of two days, Teddy rips through the island finding out more than he bargained for and facing his own demons on the way. Whether you figure out the ending before the film, during, or not at all, the film never disappoints.
The continuity problems stem from the writer’s intentions during the noveling of the story and was carried on by Scorsese to add increased paranoia and reality lapses experienced by the narrator. What ends up looking like mistakes becomes one of the “whole ‘nother levels” that you come to expect from the film. Watch the film once through for the continuity or the fact that every shot with Teddy normally has a guard, orderly, or doctor present in the background.
The cinematography is outstanding. From the opening shot of the boat appearing from the mist and approaching the island, to the Cell Block C shots, right up to the finale, all play out masterfully. Watching the features following the film, you see the actual look of the island and its surroundings, completely drab and colorless compared to the digital enhanced and vibrant look of the actual film.
Performances in “Shutter Island” are off the charts. Every character, no matter the size of the role, was a well-known actor or actress, many having the daunting task of playing multiple roles. Leonardo DiCaprio obviously steals the show, playing the lead role, and conveying every emotion you could possibly imagine. Having never been a huge fan of DiCaprio‘s, his presence in Shutter Island was wholeheartedly welcome. Mark Ruffalo provided the most subtle performance I have ever witnessed. On the second viewing of the film, the nature of his character provides for some shocking and worthwhile discoveries. Kingsley also stole the show with his knock-out, tailor-made performance as the head doctor. There is an essence about Kingsley that he brings to all his roles to make them his own. Shutter Island would have been a completely different film without all three men.
Top off the film with short but unforgettable and haunting performances from Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and Jackie Earle Haley, each with their unique and state-of-the-art acting styles, and the film jumps to a level all its own.
The film tries at being real by having an actual psychiatrist on board throughout the production of the film. From working with the actors to explaining the actual historical events this film is based on, the film rings more true and reacts more as a period piece than a psychological thriller (though it definitely is both). The interview with the psychiatrist following the film brings out yet another elusive side to the already complex film that is Shutter Island.
There is an absolutely breath-taking antiquity to “Shutter Island,” guaranteed to withstand the passing of time. Though much of the criticism stems from the “transparent” plot, viewers need to look passed the surface and see what is really going on in the film, just as Teddy Daniels has to look at his own situation much deeper to discover the truth. I admit that I was not keen on the film the first go-around, but with faith that I was missing something from the film, I took the leap again and loved every minute of it. Like “The Book of Eli,” it forms into an entirely different film each time you watch it. I aim now to read the book that the film’s screenplay was based on, written by Dennis Lehane. Even then I feel as though there will be more to uncover than what the film and the pages of the book have to convey.
February 19, 2010
“Shutter Island” by Dennis Lehane
(for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity)