Shutter Island is, like many psychological thrillers, filled with plot twists and can become confusing if you don’t pay enough attention or try to apply too much logic to some of the proceedings. I found it to be an enjoyable movie, although it will not go down as one of Martin Scorcese’s best movies.
Shutter Island opens in 1954. U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is battling a bout of seasickness while on the ferry that links Boston to the titular island. With him is his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), who just transferred in from Seattle. They’re headed to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a patient (Emily Mortimer) at the mental hospital that comprises the only housing on the island, yet from the very beginning Daniels can tell that something isn’t right.
Unfortunately, with a story that twists and turns as much as Shutter Island, it’s very difficult to discuss much of the plot without divulging into spoilers that could take away some of the impact. Although it moves at a fast enough pace to entertain the viewer without giving them enough time to figure out possible plot holes, the story itself is, in the end, somewhat predictable. I can’t say much more than that without giving away major plot points except to say that what started out somewhat interesting in the first hour ended up dissolving into what was the least enjoyable aspect of the movie.
Although the story is perhaps both overly confusing and surprisingly predictable, it didn’t stop Scorcese from giving it his all in directing Shutter Island. The pace of the filming melds well with the ebb and flow of the story, and Scorcese shows surprising adeptness at effectively building up the tension that’s generally a cornerstone of “thrillers.” The only previous movie in Scorcese’s repertoire that is similar to Shutter Island is probably Cape Fear, which ended up being more of a b-movie mess than an effective thriller, so it was extra surprising to see the master of violent crime dramas jumping genres so effectively and seamlessly.
The acting is also, for the most part, strong and effective. Leonardo DiCaprio has been at his best when under Scorcese’s direction, and Shutter Island is no different. Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow effectively portray less-than-forthright psychiatrists who are obviously hiding something. Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, and Patricia Clarkson all do serviceable jobs with surprisingly small roles.
Mark Ruffalo, on the other hand, was a piece of cardboard. His stiff delivery may have been the result of not being given any good lines in the script, but I occasionally found myself cringing when he opened his mouth to talk. I’ve never been huge on Ruffalo as an actor, but this poor of a performance was somewhat surprising.
It’s tough to judge a film like Shutter Island. On one hand, the directing and acting is strong and the story, for the first hour or so, ropes you in almost immediately and rarely slows down. On the other hand, the plot falls completely off the deep end in the second half, with twists seeming to occur only to set up the next twist and the next twist, so much so that it’s almost impossible to tell if the ending was “reality” or just another twist.
I can recommend Shutter Island as an enjoyable enough thriller, but I can’t recommend it as a great movie.
3.5 (out of 5) stars.