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Many people questioned acclaimed director Martin Scorsese’s choice to helm a pure genre film in the psychological thriller Shutter Island, but the marriage of one of the masters of crime drama and a Dennis Lehane (“Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone”) novel is as close to an ideal match as it sounds. Although Scorsese is capable of applying his skills to more meaningful work than a mystery, he’s able to play around a lot more with technique, style, light and color to turn a somewhat predictable mystery into a captivating thriller.
Many great thrillers have taken place within the walls of an insane asylum and Shutter Island, which arrives on DVD today, takes this to the max. The isolated east-coast island is home to the most dangerous of the criminally insane. When two U.S. marshals (DiCaprio and Ruffalo) come to the island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of one of the inmates, they find themselves up to their necks in an even bigger mystery involving the hospital and everyone in it.
As Daniels investigates, we learn he is somewhat intimately tied to the case and the facility. He’s lost his wife in a fire and the man who set it is locked up somewhere on the island. Daniels has dreams of his wife coming to him and speaking to him, turning to ash in his arms. He even starts to hallucinate while awake. Scorsese certainly hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to play with false reality in his films, so he relishes these opportunities. Dream sequences are often pointless, but Scorsese makes them intriguing, beautiful and haunting all at once despite their excessive use. He picks powerful images that might make you shake your head at times, but they enhance the mystery in the long run.
Numerous scenes give Scorsese a chance to show off. When he investigates the mysterious Ward C, Daniels has nothing but matches. As he speaks to one of the prisoners, someone he knew off the island, he continues to light matches to see his way — a new one every time one burns out. Scorsese develops a rhythm of creepy dialogue from Jackie Earl Haley and quick shots of the match striking flint then lighting the actors’ faces. Dull moments are extremely rare as Scorsese finds numerous ways to keep you invested our nervous about what comes next.
The director gets the most out of each scene, but the film doesn’t conceal its hand all that well where plot is concerned. A few lines of dialogue connect some if not most of the dots, so the impact of the last several minutes (aka the big reveal) is not as effective as some of the great thrillers out there. Without Scorsese and the talents of DiCaprio, however, Shutter Island might have ended up just a decent film as opposed to a very good one. It’s too impressively executed to be bunched in with the bulk of decent thrillers out there, but not clever and original enough to be among the genre’s elite. Scorsese might be capable of better, but Shutter Island proves his versatility more than it takes anything away from his legacy.
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Laeta Kalogridis, Dennis Lehane (novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
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Simon thought: “I often enjoy it when what some may call “prestige” directors forte into what some may call “mainstream” move-making for a film or two. You get the best of both worlds; a film palatable for a Friday night, and as well as weight behind the camera. That can be said for Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. While I don’t want to make unfair assumptions about how other filmmakers would have handled the material, his prowess behind the camera certainly adds some pizazz and gravitas to the material. Shutter Island is the third successful instance of a Dennis Lehane novel being brought to the big screen and here’s to hoping this streak of winning adaptations continue. There is nothing overtly terrible about Shutter Island, only that there is nothing outwardly remarkable about it either. The middle portion sags before its fantastic conclusion and there are a few too many flashbacks and dream sequences all of which add up to a solid, but not great genre exercise.” Rating: 7/10
Kieran thought: “After Martin Scorsese won his long overdue Academy Award he continues his good form with Shutter Island, another successful adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel. With Leonardo Di Caprio and Mark Ruffalo offering fantastic performances and good performances from the rest of the cast, Scorsese was able direct an effective neo-noir style film with an eerie tone throughout which is refreshing to see. Laeta Kalogridis provides a good screenplay and Scorsese was able to keep the mystery going as long as he could: though it becomes obvious by about two-thirds of the way through the film. There are also some plot holes in the film, but Scorsese’s direction was able to make the audience forget about them for most of the time. With a dark feel throughout the film, Scorsese touches on some interesting themes of war guilt, the Holocaust, Cold War paranoia and different mentions of psychiatry. Shutter Island is a clever thriller that shows that Scorsese is the best director in the world at the moment.” Rating: 9/10
Dinah thought: “No matter what anyone expected, Shutter Island is one part psychological thriller and two parts drama. As you can expect with a Scorsese picture the acting, editing and cinematography are impeccable. The movie plows steadily along to the drumbeat of a film score so perfectly timed it puts a grin on your face. All the best aspects of the movie seem a bit lazy at the end though. This will be most evident to those who have read the book the film is based upon.This was not a bad effort by Scorsese — it simply wasn’t one of his most remarkable works. Rating: 6/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 7.5/10