Review: Shutter Island

PLOT: In Boston, circa 1954, two U.S Marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio & Mark Ruffalo) are sent to the remote Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane on Shutter Island, to investigate the disappearance of an inmate.

REVIEW: I walked into SHUTTER ISLAND with incredibly high expectations. Considering it’s a Martin Scorsese film, I expected nothing short of a masterpiece, especially since it reunites him with current go-to guy Leonardo DiCaprio. Add to that the fact that this is another Dennis Lehane adaptation, whose work was previously the basis of MYSTIC RIVER, and GONE BABY GONE, and you’ve got the formula for a film that can’t miss, right?

Sure enough, SHUTTER ISLAND is a good film. It’s well-acted, beautifully shot and full of atmosphere. Some have said that this is Scorsese’s THE SHINING, and yes, this film is full of references to Kubrick’s classic from the remote, chilling locations, to the music. It’s also strongly reminiscent of a series of Val Lewton thrillers from the forties, that Scorsese previously had issued on DVD, particularly the films BEDLAM and ISLE OF THE DEAD.

Still, I can’t say that this is top-tier Scorsese for me. For some reason, I had trouble getting into SHUTTER ISLAND. It just felt a little old-hat, which is the last thing I’d expect from Scorsese. The last time he dabbled in horror, he came out with the incredible CAPE FEAR remake- which stands as one of the few remakes that trumps the original in my book. Here, the film just never really takes off. I didn’t find it scary, and at times my mind began to wander somewhat.

That said, I really can’t pinpoint what’s wrong with it. DiCaprio is great is Marshal Teddy Daniels. This is a fascinating, deeply layered character, with Daniels’ harboring many ulterior motives for his visit to SHUTTER ISLAND, least of which is the investigation to which he’s been assigned. He’s haunted by the recent death of his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams), who he sees in nightmarish visions once he gets to the island. He’s also dealing with the fact that he was present at the liberation of the Dachau death camp in WW2, which he’s constantly reminded of in his nightmares. The Dachau flashbacks are brilliantly filmed, and truly disturbing. I think if Kubrick had lived to direct his planned Holocaust film, THE ARYAN PAPERS, it would have been similar to the way Scorsese shoots the sequences, and I still hope he finds time to make a WW2 film at some point.

As his partner, Ruffalo is quite good, although the character initially comes off as a tad bland, until we find out more about his own reasons for being on SHUTTER ISLAND. Playing the psychiatrists in charge of Ashecliffe, we get two old pros, Max Von Sydow, and Ben Kingsley. Sydow’s the more enigmatic, sinister seeming doctor, and the former EXORCIST is great. Kingsley’s terrific as the more compassionate doctor, and it’s nice to finally see him in a film worthy of his talents, as he’s been in way too much crap lately.

Visually, SHUTTER ISLAND is a feast, with Scorsese once again teaming up with Robert Richardson, and the look of the film is reminiscent of their work on THE AVIATOR. The film has the look of being shot with old two-strip Technicolor, which is appropriate considering the period setting. I also loved the music score, which is all source material from artists like Brian Eno, John Cage, and Ingram Marshall. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise though, as when has the music in a Scorsese film been anything less than exquisite? It helps that once again he’s working with his old pal, Robbie Robertson, as music supervisor.

My problems with SHUTTER ISLAND mostly deal with the last third of the film, which feels somewhat anti-climatic considering the build-up we’ve been getting. I was also somewhat underwhelmed by the mind-f**k ending, which is predictable in its unpredictability if that makes any sense. However, the final scene is indeed haunting.

In the end, SHUTTER ISLAND is a film that I think I need some time to absorb. While it’s certainly not among his best, it’s still a Scorsese film, so you get a level of quality here that you won’t get elsewhere. I also have the feeling that this is the type of film that might benefit from repeat viewings, so I’ll be anxious to give this another look somewhere down the line. Sure, it’s not a masterpiece, but it’s Scorsese, and it demands to be seen.

RATING: 7.5/10

Review: Shutter Island




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.