Martin Scorsese is long past the point of having to prove himself. Having finally won his long overdue Oscar, it seems he can pretty much do whatever he wants (if he couldn't already). That freedom has led him to the enigmatic Shutter Island, the premise of which almost seems beneath the giant in whose hands it is delivered; and yet it's because of those hands that the movie works so well. Drawing on uniformly brilliant performances from his cast, stunning cinematography, and his own incomparable skills as a director, Martin Scorsese has woven together a thriller as intricate as it is haunting.
Adapted from the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, Shutter Island is the story of Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), two U.S. Marshals who, in 1954, are sent to the remote Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where a patient has somehow escaped. (Lehane's work is also behind such recent successes as Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone.) It's clear from the onset that Teddy and Chuck are seen as nuisances at best, intruders at worst; they're met with a lack of cooperation bordering on outright hostility, forced to surrender their firearms, and have trouble getting a straight answer out of anyone. What's also clear is that Teddy isn't that stable himself: he's haunted by the death of his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) in a fire, and prone to migraines, seasickness, and dreams bordering on hallucinations. He's also determined to "blow the lid off" Ashecliffe, about which he'd made up his mind long his arrival on Shutter Island.
The cast is full of heavyweights — everyone from DiCaprio and Ruffalo to Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, and Jackie Earl Haley is in this movie — all of whom give solid and even memorable performances. DiCaprio, who may be Hollywood's most reliable and interesting leading man, is great as always; too, the oft-overlooked Ruffalo, who never gets as much recognition as he deserves, shines as well. One is reminded of his similarly strong portrayal of David Toschi in 2007's Zodiac, a great film that had the disadvantage of being released early in a year filled with more good movies than any other in recent memory.