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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