How do you begin to write a review for a film whose plot is so high in concept and intricate that even the smallest story details revealed could completely ruin the magic of the film? Well, you do it very delicately and you warn your readers first. So please consider yourself forewarned. If you have any intentions of ever seeing this film and enjoying it, I would recommend you stop reading this review now. That being said, Martin Scorsese's latest film, "Shutter Island," based on the popular novel by "Mystic River" author Denise Lehane is an extremely entertaining descent into the world of madness where nothing is quite as it seems. The film's premise alone opens up unlimited possibilities and the director takes the opportunity to explore all of them with his classic style of filmmaking. The director has assembled an outstanding cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michellle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Ted Levine, John Carrol Lynch, Elias Koteas, Jackie Earle Haley and Max Von Sydow. All of the performances in the film are first rate and add a certain amount of authenticity to the creepiness that Scorsese is attempting to create. While the film may suffer a bit by its own complicated storyline and so-called "trick ending," it is still a strongly acted, written and directed film that works as a fully entertaining and intense psychological thriller.
I will be very delicate with my plot description so I don't give too much away but I will say that this is one film that is best viewed knowing as little about it as possible. I believe that the less you know about what you are about to see, the more it will enjoy it. Much like "The Sixth Sense," the film's "trick ending," for lack of a better term, is best served when you are not expecting it. However, in this day and age where every movie seems to have a "twist" of some kind in the third act, it does make it hard not to expect it in every film. If anything I think that is what hurts this film a bit, which is no fault of its own. Had this movie come out ten or fifteen years ago I think it would have been as mind-blowing as "The Sixth Sense" or "The Crying Game" were when they were first released. But in today's "plot-twist" crazy era I believe the film unfortunately lost a bit of its punch. Not to mention that many of the commercials for the film hinted at a "big twist," which actually led me to expect it throughout the entire movie. Luckily the twist is very original so I didn't have it completely figured out but I knew something was coming and I found myself waiting for that next shoe to drop just a bit.
But regardless of that, I still very much enjoyed the film and liked watching the way it did lead up to it's ultimate big twist, with lots of little "mind-blowing" twists and turns along the way. Not to mention that the look of the film is quite remarkable and the pacing is just perfect, which helps add to the tension of the story. The film begins by introducing us to U.S. Marshals, Teddy Daniels, played with real intensity by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Chuck Alue, an excellent Mark Ruffalo. The Marshals have been dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a woman who drowned three of her own children and is a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane on an island in Massachusetts. Teddy, who is still dealing with post-traumatic stress from his duties in WWII and the murder of his wife (Michelle Williams), is secretly on the island to find the man who killed his wife and expose the unethical treatment of patients that he believes goes on at the hospital.
Upon arrival on the island they are introduced to the hospital's chief physician, Dr. John Cawley, played with a delicious evilness by Ben Kingsley and Dr. Jeremiah Naering (acting legend Max von Sydow), another top physician at the hospital. As Teddy and Chuck investigate the missing patient, Teddy starts to suspect that his suspicions were correct about the hospital and continues to look for his wife's murderer, Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas). Things get complicated when a hurricane hits the island making it impossible for the Marshals to leave. The longer they stay, the closer Teddy gets to the truth but what he doesn't realize is that discovering the truth about the island may dig up secrets from his own past that he rather keep buried. Eventually, Teddy comes to believe that because he is getting so close to the truth, the hospital is trying to discredit him by making him seem insane. What follows next will not only shock you but also leave you questioning everything that you just witnessed.
The performances are all top-notch in the film and I really liked the unusual cast. Max von Sydow is always great to see in a film like this and his on-screen persona adds a certain authenticity to the creepiness of the film. Jackie Earle Haley has only one scene in the movie but is wonderful in his part. Haley really gets the opportunity to stretch his acting-chops and makes full use of his role. Two actors that I really love who I feel are often underrated are Patricia Clarkson and Elias Koteas, who are both fantastic in the film. Mark Ruffalo gives his best performance to date holding his own weight opposite a movie star the caliber of DiCaprio. Ben Kingsley is also excellent in his role as the head of the hospital and you are never quite sure of his true motives until the very end.
But it is the performance of Leonardo DiCaprio that really makes this film believable and ties everything together. DiCaprio proves he is the best actor of his generation and seeing him collaborate once again with Scorsese is great. Scorsese sets a great tone for the movie, it's "Shawshank Redemption" meets "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" wrapped up in a film noir. Scorsese builds a scary and creepy film that is quite compelling and harkens back to some of his earlier movies like "Taxi Driver" and "Cape Fear." The drama actually builds very well within the story regardless of what happens in the third act. Visually the movie is quite stunning and Scorsese's use of flashbacks not only adds to the story but also helps illuminate the films revelations in the end. This may not be Martin Scorsese's best film but it is a really good one and a must see for any fan of the legendary director. In the end, Shutter Island is a thrilling and surprising movie that will completely entertain you and leave you scratching your head in puzzlement for days.