Film review: 'Shutter Island'

 

Film review: 'Shutter Island'

 

Date: February 24, 2010
by: Pam Nadon | Film critic

 
 

Martin Scorsese is "the definitive filmmaker of our time." A scholar of cinema, his movies are always clearly unique and yet echo some of the greatest films ever made. His new release, "Shutter Island," is a nerve-shattering head spinner that will mess with your mind long after exiting the theater.

In 1954, two U.S. Marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are assigned to investigate the disappearance of a child murderer from a prison/hospital for the criminally insane. Shutter Island, miles off the coast of Boston, is accessible only by boat and houses only the most violent mental patients.

From the get-go, subtle clues are delicately dropped pertaining to Teddy's perception of reality. He is haunted by dreams of his dead wife (Michelle Williams), and they are deeply disturbing. If that's not sufficiently spooky, he also has horrific flashbacks of liberating Dachau. The prison medical director, Dr. Cawley (the ever charming Ben Kingsley), treats everyone as though they're a potential patient and that doesn't sit well with the fragile G-man.

The pressures within the dark halls of the asylum are reflective of those on the outside. Concerns regarding experimental psychotropic drug therapy and lobotomies somewhat parallel those of Cold War paranoia, HUAC hearings and the A-bomb. Scorsese mandates that his audience pay strict attention to details, lest it be lost in the quagmire of Shutter Island's seduction.

Scorsese, admittedly, is hugely influenced by the works of Alfred Hitchcock, and it's abundantly evident in "Shutter Island." Stunning visuals and exquisite imagery are as riveting as the unsettling subject matter. Employing Hitchcock's signature point-of-view shots intensely enhance the dichotomy existing within each character's psyche.

A slew of stars (perfectly cast by the ever-astute Ellen Lewis) give exceptional performances. Many have little screen time but leave an indelible impact. Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine and Elia Koteas together manage in scaring socks off. DiCaprio, an actor who has evolved into one of the greatest artists in the business, gives the best performance of his career in this film.
At the end of "Shutter Island," the question is asked, "Is it better to live as a monster or die a good man?" I didn't quite get it. But I did get the feeling that this extraordinary piece of filmmaking definitely deserved a second viewing, as do all of Scorsese's movies.

 

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