Martin Scorsese is an ingenious visual director. In many of his films, his stylish touches are so subtle that many don’t even notice them.
That’s not the case in Shutter Island, where he showcases this talent without restraint. Scorsese’s excellent cinematography elevates
Shutter Island above the typical psychological thriller it could have so easily become.
In a film rife with haunting visions and locales, Scorsese pulls out all the stops to make it a constantly sumptuous visual experience. He
takes full advantage of first rate art direction and presents it brilliantly. Each scene and location oozes with ominous, brooding atmosphere.
That’s not to say it’s the only aspect of the film that works well. There are great performances all around. Primarily, Leonardo DiCaprio is
excellent as troubled U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels. As the film lurches to a climax, DiCaprio really has a chance to show his chops, and he
hits all the right notes.
Ben Kingley also has a great turn as the head psychiatrist on the island.
With all these excellent production elements in place, it really becomes the story and screenplay that hold back Shutter Island from
Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island’s plot is entertaining and mysterious enough to hold our interest, but basically
telegraphs the fact that there is a major twist coming. And to the detriment of everything that has come before it, the big reveal is forced
and not nearly as surprising as it thinks it is.
I felt like I had read the book already, and I haven’t.
Keen audience members will notice too many clichés and plot conveniences, especially looking back at the film after the mystery is
Scorsese does his best to present the story in a way that makes it seem more original than it is, but he only partly succeeds here.
Laeta Kalogridis’ screenplay isn’t a terrible work of adaptation, but it does fall into the trap of presenting far too much revelatory exposition
late on. These lengthy conversations play better on the page than on the screen. That’s why you are supposed to ‘adapt,’ and not simply
In film, twists are more effective when ‘shown’ as opposed to ‘explained.’
Because of this tendency towards expository dialog, Shutter Island does drag a bit as it approaches its finale. It doesn’t help that the
editing in the first two acts of the film is very tight, bordering on brief. The contrast is very noticeable.
But even if Shutter Island isn’t remembered as one of Scorsese’s finest, it’s still a good film. The excellent visuals and cast help it to rise
above its inconsistent screenplay to make it worth the price of admission. It’s an entertaining psychological mystery, and even if in the end
it doesn’t quite deliver on all of its promise and potential, it still comes recommended with slight reservation.
* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Laeta Kalogridis
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben
Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Released: February 19, 2010; 138 Minutes