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The International Writers Magazine: Film

Shutter Island
Director: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Dennis Lehane (Novel) Laeta Kalogridis (Screenplay)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams

Sam Faulkner


There was excitement surrounding the release of Shutter Island from its excellent theatrical trailer, a dark and foreboding taste of the latest picture from Martine Scorsese, starring a grizzled Leonardo DiCaprio as a U.S federal marshal dispatched to an asylum for the criminally insane to investigate the disappearance of an inmate.

The opening shot sees a ferry emerge from thick fog to deliver agent Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck (Ruffalo) to their assignment. The fog creates an intense menace which is maintained until they reach the front gates. These first ten minutes are as close to a perfect piece of filmmaking as you could hope to see, with a sweeping aerial shot of the island, close ups of the grim faced guards and flawless 1950s iconography immersing us fully in the world. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is the incredible score, one of the most threatening and atmospheric since the days of Hitchcock.

DiCaprio has undergone something of a maturing process since the days of Titanic, and has proven himself as one of this generation’s leading performers, tackling some challenging roles in recent years. Looking back to 1998, it is hard to imagine the clean shaven, curtain-haired pin-up playing such characters as Danny Archer, the hard and selfish arms dealer in Blood Diamond, featuring an impossibly accurate Zimbabwean accent. DiCaprio manages to complete his hat-trick of recent fine performances in his latest film, a turn which comfortably sits alongside Blood Diamond and his previous Scorsese film The Departed to ensure the leading man has one of the most impressive CV’s in Hollywood today.  Teddy Daniels is a cynical and tortured character, tormented by traumatic events from his past which have moulded the believable figure presented in Shutter Island. Dicaprio’s interpretation of the character is flawless. While a lesser actor could have concentrated on the hard exterior of Teddy, he instead captures his insecurities perfectly – the bile in his voice as he reminds numerous minor characters of his position as a “Duly appointed federal marshal” really give the audience an insight into a man who reacts to any situation in which his control is threatened. It is a performance of barely – restrained fury which should earn a nod in the Best Actor category at next years Oscars.

The excellent supporting cast should not be overlooked, Max Von Sydow and Mark Ruffalo put in superb turns, but the most notable is that of Sir Ben Kingsley, coming across as both kindly and menacing as Dr. Cawley, the lead psychiatrist.  Kingsley contrasts superbly with DiCaprio, bringing an eerie calm to his scenes, and again it would not be a surprise to see him earn a fifth nomination at next years Academy Awards.

The strongest element of this film lies in its unsettling and authentic cinematography, every sight and sound we are presented with draws us further into the unsettling world of Shutter Island, whether it be the stark shadow play of the sequences in C block, or the previously mentioned opening sequence. Every frame of the film works towards constructing an atmosphere, into which it is difficult not to be drawn. 

Sadly, for all its subtly creepy visuals and fearsome score, the film offers few genuine scares, the C block sequence, for instance, threatened to become a taut few minutes of cat and mouse, but did not live up to its initial promise. Many of the islands inmates, whilst certainly unnerving, could have been used further as a genuine threat to the characters, but as it transpires are generally little more than background. Whilst this is no way meant as a horror film, a few scares could have livened up some of the darker sequences in between the heavier plot developments.

The only real flaw in Shutter Island lies in its third act, after the tense and enjoyable first 90 minutes, an obvious twist is revealed, and whilst the ending of the film could not be called a disappointment, it is overlong and does undermine some of the superb work done before. The final exposition scenes could be seen to be a little too jarring, and whether the film would stand up to repeat viewings with the ending known is questionable. The film could have been rated a little higher with 20 minutes shaved from this section, and although the wheels did not completely come off, it did seem a rather convoluted end to a previously tightly plotted picture.
So, Shutter Island comes highly recommended, although it falls just short of essential viewing due to a slightly wobbly third act. A character – driven and intriguing narrative combined with some pitch – perfect cinematography and a superb cast to make it a worthy addition to the Scorsese catalogue.
© Sam Faulkner March 23rd 2010

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