Review by Paul Stathakis | February 25, 2010

Scorsese tries hand at thriller genre once again and wins

We meet Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), in the very opening moments of Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”. They are two federal marshals from Boston assigned to a missing persons case. But this is not a routine investigation. This one involves a mental asylum and a dangerous patient who we’re told mysteriously vanished from her room overnight. Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the chief psychologist at the asylum, is as puzzled as the marshals. The rooms are small and well guarded with the windows barred. “It’s as if she evaporated, straight through the walls,” notes Dr. Cawley. And for a second, his hypothesis, however implausible and ghostly, seems like a possibility. It seems like a possibility because the asylum is an uncanny place. We’re told it houses some of the most dangerous patients – most of them murderers. To top it off, virtually everyone in the hospital, from the guards to the doctors, seem suspicious.

Scorsese, over the years, has showed no signs of slowing down. He knows how to make great pictures and there isn’t another director who understands the language of film better than he does. Here, Scorsese channels Hitchcock though the film is a little more graphic than anything Hitchcock ever directed. But the mood is there. We have characters who are intelligent on the surface but bothered on the inside. Their inner-demons, fears, and flaws interfere with their daily existence. Hitchcock was interested in those of kind of characters and Scorsese deals with such personae in Shutter Island. Teddy is a great example. He suffers from intense delusions. He dreams about his wife. He is haunted by a little girl and his past as a soldier.

DiCaprio is outstanding in this role. He showed great depth in Scorsese’s “The Aviator” and “The Departed.” Here, he surpasses those performances. For two hours, he plays a character whose job depends on questions and answers. He speaks with doctors, patients, and guards. He confers with his partner. Along the way, he transforms. He develops ticks and becomes paranoid, and we have no trouble believing this transformation because of DiCaprio’s exhilarating performance. The supporting cast is equally winning. Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Max Von Sydow are perfectly cast in roles that require actors with suspicious faces.

As the film advances, Teddy becomes more drawn to the case. He’s determined to expose the truth, to find not just the missing patient but to settle a personal score with another dangerous patient, and to escape the island with or without his partner. Teddy risks his life, climbs down rocky mountains, enters dangerous parts of the asylum, meets characters who may or may not be telling him the truth (who can you really trust in a mental asylum?), and he jeopardizes his sanity in the process. When we reach the finale, Scorsese doesn’t waste any time trying to shock viewers. The ending is quite surprising and it works only if you admire surprise endings. Shutter Island is the kind of movie that makes sense through reflection. There are many clues that surface throughout but they only become apparent to us when we go back looking for them. Pay close attention to the dialogue and the images. Many details are meant to be interpreted upon a literal level especially when one of the patients says to Teddy, “Don’t you get it? You’re a rat in a maze.”


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