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Shutter Island Review

February 19, 2010  |  2:50pm
<em>Shutter Island</em> Review

Release Date: Feb. 19
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay), Dennis Lehane (novel)
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Studio/Run Time: Paramount Pictures, 138 mins.

Scorsese gets his Hitchcock on

Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s pulp thriller is a brainy and compelling take on that most hoary of film genres: psychological horror. Equal parts parable and cautionary tale, Shutter Island is an expertly-paced thriller that feels far shorter and more exhilarating than its lengthy runtime suggests.

Federal marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio dressed to the nines as a scenery-devouring g-man) is sent to the eponymous isle—a maximum security mental-ward-cum-penitentiary off the New England coast called Ashecliffe—to investigate a criminally insane prisoner’s disappearance. It’s quickly apparent that there’s something amiss about this case, and a palpable sense of foreboding bleeds through Scorsese’s gorgeous and ominous establishing shots: brick buildings loom against murky skies, the prisoners’ screams echo through the facility’s crumbling corridors, and Daniels, a WWII veteran, is haunted by vivid and surreal flashbacks to his dead wife and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

As Daniels chainsmokes his way through literal and mental labyrinths, Shutter Island heaps on plot twist after hallucination after cryptic foreshadowing. Keen editing prevents this psychological alphabet soup from becoming incomprehensible, instead providing layers of intrigue and forcing the audience to puzzle through Daniels’ delirium without the benefit of dramatic irony. The film’s ending is quite clearly telegraphed by the third act, but Scorsese’s knack for getting his audiences emotionally invested in the ride fosters a near-voyeuristic thrill at seeing DiCaprio (ravenous for what might well be an Oscar nod) break down, so the fragments of his psyche can be sorted out along with the plot. Which is why Scorsese hasn’t just crafted an admirable thriller—he’s damn near made the genre his own.

Watch the Shutter Island trailer:

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