Shutter IslandMartin Scorsese, the esteemed Godfather of American Cinema, has returned after 2006's The Departed and subsequent Academy Award prevailing - in remarkable and measured form.

As if packed with the steely muscle of a confident cage-fighter, Scorsese hammers the story of Shutter Island with swift movements of prowling cat-like grace that both reveals and revels in an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema history. Inherently clever and never flatline in its execution, Shutter Island, under Scorsese's skilled direction, is a masterpiece that deftly pays homage to past cinematic glories without being exaggerated. Shutter Island is Scorsese at his articulate best; it is also an immediate classic of American Cinema.

With a spellbinding opening in which a lone ferry - charting U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), to Ashecliffe Mental Hospital - unhurriedly appears from within a darkening fog, the film immediate envelopes its audience with a pervading atmospheric sense of thick foreboding. In a matter of minutes, the main brain-tease of the film is wondrously in place and already in rapid motion. Seconds later, with a blast of thunderous horns (courtesy of vintage source music from Robbie Robertson), the film's true character the threatening island itself is revealed in all its destructive glory: Welcome to Shutter Island.

Written by Laeta Kalogridis and based on a book by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island while deceptively concerned with Daniels and Aule's search for a missing patient clearly plays upon moments of magic and mystery from cinema history - recalling Cold War-era classics of paranoia, claustrophobic-driven thrillers ala Orson Welles' The Trial, and Roger Corman produced vehicles of pulp and vengeance. Acted out by competent performers who know they are in a B-movie from a bygone era, the film derives its appreciation from the encompassing fortress of the island; it's Edgar Allan Poe's Unity of Effect as experienced through film. Simply put, everything works with this film every frame, every edit, every costume, every set piece, every music cue, every single acting beat - and that, as a result, is what makes Scorsese's latest achievement a work of absolute genius.

Certainly a Hitchcockian game of mental tag between DiCaprio (somewhat channeling a subdued Jack Nicholson here) and Ben Kingsley (playing the even-toned Dr. Cawley), the movie blurs the raw boundaries between memory and madness by involving a list of reality-bending personalities that tug at Daniels' very fiber of sanity and work his exposed last nerve. Kingsley, as the Officiate of Ashecliffe Hospital, is aided on the island by some fine performances from Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Elias Koteas and Ted Levine - and all, to their acting credit, know Shutter Island is pure Don Siegal territory. {googleads}

Once again edited by Thelma Schoonmaker, who expertly weaves together three stories into one solid mind-bending experience, Shutter Island is a prime example of the reality that seeing doesn't always result in believing. While this may be the most commercial Scorsese gets with his choice of material, don't let that sleight of hand fool you into thinking that this is a simple film of cat-and-mouse. There are many sides to this noir-like tale and there are many unusual faces to it, as well. The end result of the narrative line in Shutter Island; however, is the facade.

Shutter Island doesn't bother with the seriousness of Goodfellas or the violent glam of Casino. This isn't the brain-scratching Scorsese of Bringing Out the Dead or the patient-laden Kundun. Forget the gravitas of The Aviator because it doesn't reside here either; this is a childlike Scorsese at extraordinary play behind the camera. It's Scorsese taking Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie out for one final creaky stroll before burying it in the backyard. Think Cape Fear all over again - without the over-the-top appeal of De Niro.

Shutter Island is a massive funhouse of righteous thrills; it's full of cracker-jack detectives, moments of full-throttled Americana, crowded prison cells, lobotomies, haunted weather, mad scientists, human experimentation, deranged patients, and a seemingly endless asylum that houses paranoia itself. With Shutter Island, all these features work together and speak in a unified voice that proudly declares Scorsese is having one hell of a good time with his moviemaking toys.

Component Grades
5 Stars
3 Stars
DVD Experience
4 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray and DVD - June 1, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.39:1
: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1

Shutter Island looks spectacular on blu-ray; it also sounds incredible with a lossless soundtrack that compliments the film’s many nuances.  That being said, the disappointment in this release comes in its lack of special features; there are two.  That’s right, two special features.  They are as follows:


Behind the Shutters (17:10): a constructed feature designed around interviews with the cast and the crew.  Also featured is author Dennis Lehane, speaking on the themes of his narrative.  It also a brief overview commenting on the work of Director Martin Scorsese, the cast's preparations for their specific roles, and the picture's use of source music.

Into the Lighthouse (21:11): a featurette that closely examines the film's construction and use of psychiatric elements into its narrative.  Also featured are interviews with the actors as they discuss their understanding of its darker themes.