Shutter Island – Things are not always what they seem

shutterislandposterModern cinematic heavyweights Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio team up for the fourth time in this eerie and brooding mystery thriller, based on a novel by Dennis Lehane.

Set in the fifties, Shutter Island sees Leo’s U.S. Marshall Edward ‘Teddy’ Daniels investigating the apparent disappearance of a mental patient from a totally locked and guarded room. The patient, Rachel Solando, is a resident at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane, located on the otherwise desolate Shutter Island.

Daniels is accompanied by his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), as they attempt to solve the unusual case. Their hospital ‘guide’ is head psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley, portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley, who makes no bones about coming across as rather sinister and creepy.

It does not take long to establish that there is a lot more going on that a crazy woman with a talent for matter displacement. Daniels believes from the offset that the island and its inhabitants, including Cawley, have some dark and desperate secrets buried within those not-so-solid hospital walls.

Secrets from Teddy’s own past, a few suspect twitches from various characters, a cameo from Max von Sydow, a visit to the ‘off-limits’ prison/hospital on the hill, a secluded and mysterious lighthouse and some weirdness on a cliff all help to create a bizarre, baffling and intriguing mystery shot by a master of cinema.

Well, mostly…

Shutter Island looks phenomenal; it has all the feel and ambience of a creepy 60s Hitchcockian thriller, with a harsh and foreboding score, and some incredible visuals that demonstrate the power of a genuinely multi-faceted director.

The sound in the film is a particular highlight; as Daniels approaches the looming hospital gate an eerie silence dominates, until the powerful, awkwardly late entrance of the strings, stretching one lingering low-end note after another, creates the disturbing and intentionally unsubtle effect. It is brilliantly unsettling, and this kind of work on the score is achieved with aplomb throughout the movie.

The score is in fact made up of a selection of classical music handpicked by Robbie Robertson, a regular collaborator with director Martin Scorsese.

The performances are a true exemplification of acting talent; DiCaprio shines as the man surrounded by crazy people, but the only person seeing crazy things. Ruffalo is excellent support as Daniels’ partner, whilst Ben Kingsley, as always, turns out a performance that provides effortless authenticity.

Appearances from talented actresses Emily Mortimer (Harry Brown, 30 Rock) and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain), as well as legend Max von Sydow (The Exorcist) and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen’s Rorschach), give the film a brilliant stream of powerhouse performances.

Our obviously imminent qualm stems from the film’s focal point. Everything hinges on the mystery; a twist that builds up in such a way that it is almost impossible to gain a satisfactory solution. There are story threads, then a ton of weirdness, followed by a complete resolution to all events.

Although this is down to subjective perspective, the twist, upon which the film relies heavily, is surely as clear as day. One would have to be facing the other way, with cotton wool in at least one ear, in order to miss the utterly obvious truth of the situation. As the events become increasingly surreal, very few answers remain plausible, save for the one that is elaborately revealed towards the end. In itself, the twist is nigh on unbelievable whilst being obvious, and this is frustrating.

The issue really lies with the disappointment of the truth. Films and novels can intend to disappoint as part of the story’s underlying intention (No Country For Old Men), but, in the case of Shutter Island, it does not work because the filmmakers are not deliberately trying to challenge conventions; quite the opposite in fact, it is one of the most coherent and well-crafted explanations for a mystery in recent cinema.

This is the only problem, but it is quite a major one which inhibits the enjoyment of the film.

Mystery movies ask the viewer to guess; no-one watched Scream without trying to guess who the killer was. Therefore, a mystery that creates so much drama and suspense about one or two plot twists must work to make the true nature of the story far more opaque, otherwise we will guess, and we will be disappointed.

Everything else is brilliant; as we have come to expect from Scorsese, helmer of instant of classic The Departed, as well as epic masterpieces such as Gangs of New York, Goodfellas and Casino.

Whilst Shutter Island leaves you stranded for suspense in the final third, it is safe place to go for a few tantalising thrills, superb soundtrack, masterclass direction, outstanding acting and just a few edge-of-your-cliff moments.

Image: Filmofilia

One Response to “Shutter Island – Things are not always what they seem”

  1. Spooffydoof says:

    This was such a hard movie to get into, I kept thinking it was a double bluff, then triple bluff, then maybe there was no bluff, then when it got to the end it was the most obvious ending….disappointed 🙁

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