In 1954, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, takes on the case of an escaped mental hospital patient named Rachel Solando along with his partner Chuck, played by Mark Ruffalo. Solando murdered her three children and was sent to Shutter Island for psychological treatment.
Solando’s disappearance is our admittance to “Shutter Island.” Director Martin Scorsese introduces the island like the master that he is. Dulled with the grays of an incoming storm, Shutter Island, isolated off the coast of Massachusetts, is an intimidating fortress that is the perfect setting for this psychological thriller.
Once on the island, the Marshalls are greeted by the Deputy Warden, played by John Carroll Lynch, briefs them on the dangers of the island. Sir Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Cawley, who tells us all the gruesome details of the case. Solando drowned her three children in a lake, and sat their bodies at the dinner table. No one on the island knows how she escaped her room; it appears that she simply vanished.
The layers of the plot are slowly revealed. I would assume this is a testament to the strength of the novel written by Dennis Lahane though I must confess I have not read it.
Teddy Daniels explains to his partner that he specifically chose the case because his wife’s murderer, Laeddis, is a patient in the area designated for the Island’s worst cases, the mysterious Ward C. On top of this, Daniels has exposed what may be a larger government conspiracy.
To attempt to explain more of the plot would be problematic because it would detract from the pleasure of attempting to figure it all out yourself in the theatre, and it would divulge too much of the underlying psychological back-story that makes “Shutter Island” much more than a period piece whodunit.
There is much to be admired within “Shutter Island.” The cinematography is extraordinary, from the ominous grays of the arrival on the island, to the long, shadowy, film noir style of the investigative scenes.
The film’s visuals subtly compliment the suspense and tension that are bound to every scene.
The acting is worthy of acclaim as well. It has already been well documented that Martin Scorsese gets his favorite leading man, DiCaprio, to do fantastic work, but what is really noteworthy is the film’s supporting cast.
Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley are both superb character actors and compliment DiCaprio’s lead very well.
Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley and the always remarkable Max von Sydow are also standouts in brief, but powerful scenes as Rachel Solando, Dr. Naehring and George Noyce, respectively.
The score also adds to the paranoid, neurotic feel that the film takes on in its later stages. The music, in particularly tense moments, alternates between degrees of dissonance and silence adding to the mounting fear and general feeling of unease.
As a psychological thriller, “Shutter Island” is first–rate. It is intelligent, frightening, and thought provoking. The film has time to discuss the nature of humanity and the inherent violence of humans without detracting from the overall narrative.
Its ending, while shocking, may not be the most original and would probably greatly anger Charlie Kaufman in “Adaptation,” but its depth certainly isn’t unexpected and would make a second viewing a new and interesting experience.
While it may not be “Goodfellas,” Scorsese’s dabbling into the mystery and thriller genre is certainly a successful one. Then again, would you expect anything less?