To live as a monster or die as a good man

Shutter Island’s stellar performances boost thriller

film review by Stefanie Jesuthasan

Shutter Island, a psychological thriller directed by Martin Scorsese (The Departed), plunges its audience members into a bizarre and frightening world where fear and paranoia take over the mind.

The film, based on the novel Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, takes place in 1954. US Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo Di Caprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to Ashecliffe Hospital, an institution for the criminally insane located on Shutter Island off the shores of Boston, to investigate the mysterious disappearance of psychotic patient Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer). Having disappeared from a locked room without a trace, the Marshalls have only the puzzling message she left behind to help them find her. 

 As the investigation continues, Teddy begins to uncover the hospital’s darker side, which he suspects involves immoral medical experiments. Additionally, Teddy’s own demons come to the forefront in the form of painful migraines and sinister dreams of his late wife Dolores Daniels (Michelle Williams). The further he digs, the clearer it becomes that something is amiss at Ashcliffe. When the one person he trusts the most disappears, Daniels has do everything he can to save himself before the island’s inhabitants turn him into a patient, keeping him a prisoner forever.

Despite this potentially thrilling premise, the film has a very slow pace and suffers from bad structure. A number of impressive actors–including Jackie Haley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson appear for just a single scene, unearthing some complex bit of information and then vanishing for the entirety of the film. Although it serves to keep the viewers guessing about the true nature of what they see, it quickly becomes annoying by periodically breaking up the action and forcing the viewers to digest a number of key facts to make any sense of the film at all.

Shutter Island also has an interminable number of flashbacks, hallucinations and dream sequences. Like the supporting cast, they supposedly conjure a sense of disorientation and fear but they soon become repetitive and boring, making the entire movie seem long and confusing.

However, regardless of the bad structure and slow pace, the film did have many positive aspects to it. DiCaprio portrays the complexity of his character perfectly by being subtle with his emotions, but it’s his character’s utter conviction in finding out the truth that captivates the audience. The supporting cast also have a great hand in racking up the tension throughout the film. Mortimer is convincing as the crazed prison escapee, Williams is haunting as Daniels’s wife and Ben Kingsley (Dr.Cawley) is great at confusing the audience so that the assumption of Kingsley’s character changes multiple times throughout the film.

Furthermore, the cinematography and dreams/hallucinations sequences are striking and mesmerizing at times. The film is a stunning, stark landscape of moody greys and certain scenes, particularly those within the patients’ wards, make the viewer feel as trapped on Shutter Island as Daniels. The scene where hundreds and hundreds of rain-soaked rats pour from a crevice in the rock face and clamber to and fro on the craggy cliffs, inches away from Daniels is realistic and unforgettable.

In all, Shutter Island is well-made, with great performances from its cast, excellent cinematography, and an eerie, creepy atmosphere. It’s a classic psychological thriller that delivers some suspenseful and jump-worthy moments. It is the type of movie that leaves a lasting impression and one which lets the viewers play detective. It is definitely worth a watch but be warned, this movie might drive some over the edge with its eeriness. 
Scorcese’s film direction flawless
film review by Darren Usher
“I kind of wonder if it’s better to live as a monster or die as a good man.”

These words are muttered by Leonardo Dicaprio’s lead character, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels at one point during the film, and it is arguably the best way to describe what occurs in the mind-blowing, psychological thriller Shutter Island directed by Martin Scorcese. 
Set in a post-World War II setting, the film about a young, recently widowed man being sent to a remote island, which holds a correctional institution to solve the disappearance of a criminally insane woman has a star studded cast. This includes the likes of Mark Ruffalo as Chuck Aule, Daniels’ partner in crime, Michelle Williams as Daniels’ deceased wife, Dolores, and Ben Kingsley, who shines to the surprise of none in the role as Dr. Cauley, head doctor of the correctional institution. 

As the story progresses, Daniels discovers that things are not what they appear on this ‘rock’, and the only way to discover the truth will be to investigate for most of the two hour and 15 minute film. The climax is able to pull the viewer and really sideswipe them; leaving the audience wanting more from the mastermind of Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, and The Departed. For one to go further into detail about what happens in the film would be to eat a chocolate truffle cake a few minutes before a gourmet meal; it would spoil your appetite. 

Scorcese, as usual is able to create stunning imagery through the moving image. Scenes such as Dicaprio smoking a cigarette, which creates a fog around his face in a room filled with vivid colors and Dicaprio tenderly holding Williams until she suddenly crumbles into pieces of ash attack the nerves, and daze the audience in a subtle manner. 

Scorcese is also able to direct effectively to there are essentially no major flaws in each character. Everyone who is on the screen for longer than five minutes plays a significant role in the outcome of the movie. 

Shutter Island would be in the early running for ‘best movie of the new decade’ if it was not for the inability to use the musical score to the film’s advantage. Robbie Robertson, head Music supervisor of Shutter Island is able to create a dark, melodramatic sound with a fully-pledged orchestra. However, the placement of each song was completely incorrect. When an editor and director decide to put the most climactic music from the soundtrack; violins chirping rapidly and with force, percussions playing low notes at the beginning of the movie where the characters are just arriving on the island, one must wonder if the post-production cast were enjoying themselves too much and not thinking about the soundtrack’s effect on the audience. Come on, every one knows it’s all about mood and atmosphere. One cannot accomplish this until the score is placed in the proper areas of the film.

Nevertheless, Scorcese’s Shutter Island still effectively creates a subjective canvas for the viewer to colour in. Think it sounds easy? Go see if you can unravel Teddy Daniels’ conflict. You’ll be like a rat in a fucking maze.


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