Movie Review – Shutter Island

Plot: Set in 1954.  When a prisoner escapes Shutter Island (a high security rehabilitation hospital for the criminally insane), Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) leads the investigation.  Daniels discovers more is going on than a simple escape as he unravels potentially illegal and frightening practices by the Hospital’s Doctors while also trying to keep his own sanity.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, back together again; the Joe Montana and Jerry Rice of the movie scene if you will.  Certainly not their best effort, but a very strong film nonetheless.  When you go see Shutter Island though, make sure you pay attention.  Scorsese is arguably the greatest director of all time, but his one weakness is pushing scenes a little too long.  Has the guy ever done a movie under 150 minutes?  This is quite apparent in Shutter Island, but it’s not enough to derail this visually beautiful paranoia/insane romp through one of the freakiest hospitals/prisons I’ve ever seen on film.

Let’s talk about the visuals for a bit.  Wow.  This film looks gorgeous.  Many of the scenes in Shutter Island are hallucinations, and they look outstanding.  One in particular is when Teddy Daniels is surrounded by a building of fire, and I just couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  Although these “dream sequences” go on way too long, it looks so good that I don’t even care.  Scorsese is very good at keeping you interested even when a scene drags on.

Leonardo DiCaprio.  What can I say?  He’s great as always, and probably my favorite actor out there today.  His performance is so perfected.  Every line he delivers, every facial tick is carefully calculated and played out.  Everyone shines in this movie.  Ben Kingsley.  Michelle Williams.  Emily Mortimer.  And two great cameos from Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas.  Unfortunately, Mark Ruffalo as Daniel’s partner, Chuck Aule, is mediocre.  Not bad, but just looks JV compared to everyone else.  Sorry, Mark.  But other than that, if you love watching great performances, then a Scorsese movie is always a good bet.

As good as everyone is, DiCaprio really has to carry this.  He’s basically in every single scene.  This is a near two and a half hour movie, and it’s all about Leo.  That’s it.  Fortunately Leo is more than up to the task, although it might be too much screen time.  Give another character the chance to shine.  Even when he has a one-on-one moment with another character, the focus is solely on him.

I think there were also a couple scenes and sub-plots that didn’t add anything that they spend way too much time on.  The film refers back to Daniel’s war history several times.  While interesting and visually compelling, I don’t think this was all that important to the core of the film, and they spend a lot of time on it.  There is also a lengthy scene in which Daniels talks to the Warden (Ted Levine) that has some interesting dialogue, but it really doesn’t need to be there and goes on forever.  Maybe if I watch it again it will mean something.

In fact, this movie begs you to watch it twice.  They have such a good set-up that you want to rip right through to the end to see what the hell is going on.  This is both a strength and a weakness as you will miss crucial detail.

While the end is a pretty darn good pay-off, I will warn you it’s a tad ambiguous, which will understandably anger some people.  Normally this would anger me as well, but I think because it’s Scorsese, I let it slide.

Bottom-line: this is a film worth seeing.  I think it drags in a lot of areas and it’s excruciatingly repetitive, and even though there are great performances all around, DiCaprio’s Ted Daniels is the only real intriguing character.  I think there are plenty of interesting characters on this island, but they just weren’t explored enough.  Pay attention and be prepared to reflect and think afterwards.

Rating: 7.5 out 10.

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