Shutter Island is Scorsese’s best film since Gangs of New York.
The Aviator? No, flying is dangerous. The Departed? It can depart on out of this discussion. Shine a Light? Sure, the Rolling Stones are great and all, but truthfully a little overrated, no?
But Shutter Island…It grabs you, pulls you in, draws you steadily forward until the end when it slaps you right in the face and sends you out the door with nothing left to do but stand quietly on the sidewalk, hands in your pockets, wondering what just happened.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, a World War II veteran who has found a worthwhile outlet for his skills during peacetime. He, along with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), is tasked with investigating the disappearance of a patient from Shutter Island’s hospital for the criminally insane. Upon arriving, they meet the hospital’s chief administrator, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who works to assist them in their investigation. But things aren’t everything they appear to be. Or are they? That’s the question Daniels has to ask himself as he is taken on a tortuous journey full of twists and turns, where the clues don’t add up and the truth slowly being revealed may not be something he is prepared to uncover.
To say anything more than that about the plot is to say too much.
This is an extremely stylized film. Scorsese has worked hard with cinematographer Robert Richardson to create a visual concoction of contrasts. Gloomy and atmospheric one moment, and vividly colorful the next, Shutter Island is as much a piece of visual art as it is a storytelling device. The sound design is equally impressive, with the director knowing exactly when to ratchet up the volume and when to drop the decibel level to zero. Scorsese truly still has it and, like a fine wine, just gets better with age.
His skill as a director is further evidenced by his casting decisions. DiCaprio has been his muse for several years now-every major narrative film he’s released since 2002 has featured the actor-and one can only hope that this continues to be the case for several years to come. Mark Ruffalo is excellent as Daniels’ partner, and could it get any better than Kingsley as the progressive-minded Dr. Cawley? No, he’s perfect. Perhaps the most surprising performance, though, is Max von Sydow as the German Dr. Naehring. At his age it’s a wonder he’s walking around unassisted, much less making movies. Thirty-six years after The Exorcist and still going strong.
As good as the film is it is not without its flaws. It moves a bit slow in places and is a little long. A slightly faster pace and tighter editing would benefit it, but this is a minor concern in the grand scheme of things.
Overall, Shutter Island is extraordinarily solid. In fact, you don’t realize how good of a film it really is until you’ve had time to ponder the experience and the depth of detail becomes strikingly clear. With its masterful combination of inspired direction, talent-filled performances, and a clever script, there is little doubt that it will be standing as one of the very best films of the year when December rolls around. So only one question remains: What will Martin Scorsese come up with next?