Hot off his Cecil B. DeMille Award, Martin Scorsese proves there is no genre he cannot master with Shutter Island.
In their fourth film together, director Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio take on the psychological thriller and prove they are a force to be reckoned with. Scorsese wastes no time setting the mood. It’s 1954 and a seasick Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is on a ferry with his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo). The two U.S. Marshalls don’t know much about the place they are headed to, Shutter Island, but they’ve heard that it’s an asylum for the criminally insane.
The pair are sent to the island to investigate the disappearance of Rachel, one of the asylum’s less-dangerous patients. Her story is grim: she killed her three children and has no memory of it. She thinks she is staying at a resort and that crew members are mail or milkmen. The fog and rain on Shutter Island make everyone skeptic of Rachel ever being found.
The audience is taken for a thrill ride. The man who runs the asylum, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), is not being completely honest with the Marshalls. He withholds information and refuses to provide documents that would help in Daniels and Aule’s investigation. Daniels then hits his partner with the shocking confession that he had his own motives for coming to Shutter Island. He had heard that the man responsible for his wife’s death was being kept here. If that isn’t enough, Daniels is determined to uncover the island’s dirtiest secret of all: that the patients are being experimented on to be turned into soulless and remorseless fighters for the country. The score is tense, scary and eerie. The dream sequences are reminiscent of The Shining; they are often hallucinations and just snippets of Daniels’ life in the military and memories of his late wife, Dolores (Michelle Williams). Through them, we learn of the awful things he saw and did during his stint fighting the Nazis, actions he remains afflicted by almost 10 years later. “It wasn’t warfare, it was murder,” he explains.
With Daniels, DiCaprio lays to rest any doubts about his versatility as an actor, leading an incredibly talented cast. The underrated Ruffalo proves he has acting chops as the tame sidekick and Kingsley’s Dr. Cawley’s glacial and mysterious front fit his role perfectly. Jackie Earle Haley is brilliant as one of the patients in the asylum’s Ward C, the Civil War fortress where the most dangerous patients are kept. He must be sick of being cast as the creepiest character in films (Little Children, the upcoming Nightmare on Elm Street remake). Maybe that would stop if he wasn’t so damn good at it.
Shutter Island is by no means Scorsese’s best film. Having dabbled in documentaries, biopics and gangster and period dramas, the psychological thriller is not his signature or strongest genre. His tight execution and attention to detail prove that he is a one-of-a-kind director who can pull off any film genre. It’s his amazing story-telling abilities that elevate the mystery of a missing woman into an intriguing film that will have you doubting and questioning everything you see, even after the credits roll.