Movie Review: Shutter Island- An Incredibly Moody yet Overstated and Predictable Psychological Thriller

Is there any filmmaker from the 70s that is as beloved as the great and iconic Martin Scorsese? Not only is Scorsese a brilliant filmmaker and storyteller but he has a knack for picking challenging if not unique projects that separate him from his fellow rival directors such as Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas. However, in Scorsese’s new film Shutter Island becomes more of homage to the Hitchcock suspense thriller rather than a unique exploration on its own accord making for a predictable yet psychologically moody experience. As a thriller Shutter Island fails miserably for those who have experienced more intricate and complex thrillers such as Vertigo or The Usual Suspects because its twist, an incredibly drawn out obsession of 90s cinema, is long foreseen to those who pay attention to the detail in their movies. Appearing complex but explained simplistically the whole film hinges on the detective protagonist figuring out what exactly is happening at a mental facility yet he appears mentally unstable himself. Perhaps it’s the fault of the advertising campaign that continuously played this trailer for more than 6 months at the front of almost every screening imaginable, but the story progression becomes what you would expect if you’ve seen enough films in your life. This might be Scorsese’s intention since he references in mood, style, and plot some of his favorite films, such as Vertigo or The Cat People making Shutter Island an interesting homage to the 40s noir and thriller genres but has too much self-awareness to perpetuate itself above just being a rendition on films from the past. Luckily the acting is versatile and the visuals by academy award winning cinematographer Robert Richardson make for an engaging experience but ultimately an unfulfilling one.

In typical noir fashion we are introduced to a Federal Marshall named Teddy Daniels investigating a mysterious disappearance of a mental patient and is later revealed that there are deeper intentions to Teddy’s acceptance of this particular case. Teddy is played by the now Scorsese regular Leonardo DiCaprio who is convincing in his paranoia and fear from beginning to end showing his talents for diverse roles. Alongside him is his new partner Chuck played very well by Mark Ruffalo and together they have ventured to a mental institution for the criminally insane known as Shutter Island. In an attempt to not give too much away so that the experience can’t be ruined there won’t be too much else discussed here on plot, except that the script takes a turn of Teddy suspecting the institution of experimenting on patients and he is here to find his wife’s killer who was declared insane. The script is a vast display of digging into paranoia, fear, and psychological uneasiness attempting to give the feeling of disarray so that the audience can’t possibly know what is going to occur next. But once you reveal an unstable and unreliable protagonist, who is first seen puking on a boat and then explores his nightmares in full force, one knows they can’t possibly trust the point of view being presented making the script on one level complex and the next too simplistic for it’s own good. There is enough structure in the script to take this thriller to new grounds but fails to take the risks and instead remains a product of big budget films that explain to their audience what’s going on rather than allowing them to think for themselves. Many audience members will be impressed with the twists and turns of Shutter Island but that is mostly for those who have forgotten the magic of Hitchcock, the ingenuity of Fritz Lang, or the mood of Mario Bava.

Unfortunately for Shutter Island to act as a successful thriller everything needs to be understated but this is exactly the opposite of the film. Everything is projected and so over the top in its presentation that one gets tired of the blatantly obvious references to “criminally insane” or the teetering paths of sanity and insanity. Shutter Island is definitely elaborate especially in its successful visuals and use of music and sound, but overstated in plot. Cinematographer Robert Richardson (Inglorious Basterds, JFK) captures the intimate shots extremely well amid the overly done dimly lit hallways and lights going out that have been done before and always slightly better. Some will try and deny the faults of Shutter Island because of Scorsese’s illustrious career but coming from a dedicated Martin Scorsese fanatic the truth be told Shutter Island lacks much to be desired and loved. This will have people who are easily amused by modern cinema extremely pleased with its perceived complexity and the fascination with the twist ending but overall Shutter Island stands a mediocre thriller, visually stunning and accentuated with good performances from DiCaprio, Ruffalo, Ben Kingsly, and Max von Sydow, but could have been something much more.

WARNING SPOILERS: Unlike other reviews in order to discuss the deep seated failure of Shutter Island’s script there needs to be a discussion of many of the “surprising” elements in the film. If you haven’t figured out in the first 40 minutes (of a 2 hour 20 minute film) that Teddy is insane then you don’t pay attention in your films and sit back to be presented everything in simplistic fashion. This is blatantly obvious to us when his dreams become actual delusions with a weak attempt at blaming the drugs, especially since his partner eats the same food and smokes the same cigarettes. His partner, Mark Ruffalo, is another indication since he’s not a good cop (can’t unfasten his gun with ease) and one of the personal doctors is absent, which is too coincidental. But the entire film is an elaborate role playing scenario for Teddy to come to terms with killing his wife, who had drowned their children, and the ethical implications of this psychological experiment as well as the actual healing aspect of why they attempted this doesn’t make sense. First, role playing his psychosis will only accentuate his problem with gripping with reality instead of reinforcing that they are complete delusions. The fact that it takes Teddy very little time to cope with it and dwell back into insanity just shows the failure by the doctors abilities to aid the man not to mention a weakness in the script that tidies itself up way too fast. The second ridiculous reason to role play was to convince Teddy that it wasn’t real, but they already allowed him to dig deeper into his psychosis. Ethically and plot wise the script reeks of thoughtless provocations that would annoy only those who expect intelligence in their thrillers instead of having their hand held amidst well done established mood. The film is indeed a moody piece of cinema that captures successful elements of psychological fear but in a thriller one can’t be a Wong Kar Wai, where mood takes a back seat to plot, especially at the base of a Scorsese picture.

Thrillers in the modern day have succumbed to the 90s infliction of requiring a surprising out of nowhere “twist” that is supposed to hold the entire framework of the picture together. There is a weakness to depending on the twist, especially if the atmosphere of the film already compliments it making it incredibly predictable. Once the twist in Shutter Island comes around one doesn’t really seem to care what has previously occurred making the film incredibly unfulfilling especially when the conclusion can be guessed early on in the film. How everything unfolds is what matters and because the plot is overstated the process isn’t worth the time and effort. Martin Scorsese is a masterful director and there are strengths of style, guiding acting talents, and establishing mood here in Shutter Island but one expects a unique attempt at the thriller at the hands of such an accomplished artist. This film is more homage than an actual attempt at a unique thriller and suffers in the long run, especially with the drawn out exhausting ending. Some people will be easily impressed as is the case with most modern cinema but those who know better will realize that Scorsese is known to produce a much better product.

Grade: C+

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Comments
3 Responses to “Movie Review: Shutter Island- An Incredibly Moody yet Overstated and Predictable Psychological Thriller”
  1. linda shults says:

    No reply…show-time just a few hours down the road, like tomorrow.

  2. Trisha says:

    Your knowledge about the aspects of making a story tremendously brilliant,is astonishing. I considerably applaud you and wish to one day hold the same wisdom when it comes to understanding the real elements of a piece of work.

    • octavarium08 says:

      Thank you for the compliment, it truly does mean a lot to me. Please keep reading and spreading the word of this blog to others.

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