Shutter Island is the fourth collaboration between Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese and although it’s not their best film together (The Departed,) it is a very powerful and absorbing thriller. With a constantly twisting and turning story, nothing is what it appears to be, taking the audience along for a dark and wild ride. While the films premise is relatively simple, its journey and conclusion are anything but straightforward.
Set in 1954, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and his newly assigned partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are making their way to Shutter Island. They’re tasked with investigating the mysterious disappearance of patient Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) from Ashecliff Hospital (Asylum). Immediately upon arriving, it is obvious not all is what it appears to be; including an improbable (impossible) escape, devious doctors, and ostensibly rehearsed witness testimonials. Initially assigned to solve a simple disappearance, the truth they unravel is much more damning and dangerous than ever imagined.
Shutter Island is Martin Scorsese’s homage to film noir and detective films of yesteryear. Teddy Daniels is an archetypal noir antihero, complete with a dark, storied past and a complex intrapersonal conflict. He is often faced with the dilemma of dangerously delving deeper in search of the truth, or getting out while he still has the chance.
Alongside the characters and conflicts, the Asylum itself takes center stage. Utilizing a muted, gray color palette along with some crafty camerawork, the Asylum exudes an ominous aura. This masterfully crafted atmosphere radiates an astonishing amount of tension. Even scenes with nothing significant taking place are brimming with suspense and anxiety.
To further develop Teddy’s character and psyche, flashbacks of his heinous war experiences and reminiscences of his late wife are revealed. These are shown with vivid and oversaturated colors, in contrast to the films often subdued look. Though visually stunning, they don’t have the intended emotional impact with the audience. There are merely too many of them which repeat and bring any built-up momentum to a standstill. Another inconsistent, rather than misused, technique that occasionally misses the mark is its attempts at ‘trickery.’ While most of the twists are clever and subtle, a few are blatant and heavy-handed.
Shutter Island is a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable thriller with well-developed characters, strong acting performances, and a terrific atmosphere maintained throughout. Its ending is brave and satisfying without feeling cheap or contrived. The few shortcoming that are present are not major and do not detract much from the viewing experience.