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USA 2010
Directed by
Martin Scorsese
137 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Shutter Island

US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo di Caprio) and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are called to Shutter Island, an institution for the criminally insane, to investigate the escape of an inmate, Rachel Solando (played by both Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson). The year is 1954 with the Cold War in full swing and rumours abound that the Island may be hosting some pretty devious psychiatric experiments. Head of the hospital Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and his side-kick Dr Naehring (Max von Sydow) start to appear threatening to Teddy who begins to suffer flashbacks to the death of his wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams), and to his involvement in the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

Sound convoluted? You betcha!! But only in the best sense of a good thriller that has twists and turns aplenty and a plot that truly entertains despite its flaws. Based upon a novel by Denis Lehane (who also wrote Mystic River, 2003), this suspenseful psychological thriller interweaves paranoia and horror to create the overriding sense that whilst the character of Teddy cannot ultimately decide what is real and what is fantasy, neither can we, the audience. Moral elements also have a place in Shutter Island which addresses the treatment of the insane and the role of psychotropic drugs and surgical intervention as well as alluding to the harrowing legacy inherited by US soldiers involved in death camp liberations and other horrific wartime experiences (the film conflates the liberation of Dachau and Auschwitz).

Scorsese is one of the iconic directors of our time and whatever he tackles is impressive, to say the least. Here, from the word go he creates a strong genre film with lashings of mood. As Teddy and Chuck approach Shutter Island by ferry the tension kicks in. Their first view of the island is a classic – steep cliffs, pounding waves, barbed wire perimeter and patients in chains. It is all accompanied by striking double bass music reminiscent of genre films of the era. We quickly learn that Solando’s escape could not have been logically possible without staff help and all too soon a hurricane strikes, the inmates are on the loose and you have a recipe for unremitting suspense.

Thanks to Scorsese regulars production designer Dante Ferretti and cinematographer Robert Richardson along with a spooky sound design, the sense of Teddy's inner mental turmoil is tellingly evoked. Along with this comes a stellar cast, all of whom give substantial performances. Di Caprio (another regular collaborator with Scorsese) captures all the nuances and subtleties of Teddy’s haunted character. Ruffalo is fine as his partner and the pair look like they’ve stepped out of a 1950s noir film. Whilst Kingsley and Von Sydow sometimes seem to be stereotyped as the very suspicious medical figures, the women, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Emily Mortimer though only having small roles, are all strong.

For some, the plot may seem too convoluted and contrived (that storm was very convenient!) particularly towards the end of the film when an excessive degree of exposition takes place. However this barely detracts from what is an entertaining cinematic experience.




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