Shutter Island Movie Review

“Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man?” That’s the question this Martin Scorsese - directed thriller makes us ask by the end of the film. Shutter Island tells the story of two U.S. marshals, Edward Daniels and Chuck Aule, who are sent to an asylum on a remote island in order to investigate the disappearance of a patient. It is during the investigation that Daniels uncovers shocking truths about the place and the patients, including a mysterious 67th one, whose existence everyone denies.

With Martin Scorsese at the helm, the film is masterfully directed, with every scene carrying a sense of nuance and mystery. Right from the beginning of the film, the musical notes suggest something ominous and gloomy. That is probably the best way to describe the film. The film, despite not being of the horror genre, plays out as such, with haunting visuals that leave you asking what you just saw. A Civil War-era fort, a mysterious lighthouse, the strange behavior of the asylum staff and a hurricane slowly approaching the island. These are all pieces to an elaborate puzzle that the film keeps throwing at you, right up till the third act, where a shocking plot twist turns everything you’ve seen so far, on its head, and you slowly realize that the answer was right in front of you the whole time.

The film keeps you engaged during its quieter moments by making you focus on character interactions, which are the best scenes in the film, and that’s solely because of the performances of the main cast. Leonardo DiCaprio puts in a career-best performance as Edward “Teddy” Daniels, a US Marshal with a troubled past. Suffering from hallucinations about his dead wife and memories of his time as a soldier in the war, Daniels is a character with several layers to him, which are masterfully portrayed by the actor. From individual scenes where he stumbles through hallways looking for answers, to scenes where he is confronting the staff and patients at the asylum, DiCaprio nails every single aspect of the character. Veteran actor Ben Kingsley is equally great as Dr. John Cawley, the lead psychiatrist at the asylum. While he is not present for most of the film, he manages to get your attention whenever he is on screen. A morally ambiguous character, with a menacing smile and an air of bizarreness, he adds to the mysterious tone of the film. Even at the end of the film, you are left asking whether he is right or wrong. The cast also includes Mark Ruffalo, who despite being a great actor, fails at portraying the character of Chuck Aule, coming across as a forgettable side-character at times. Other actors, like Max von Sydow and John Carroll Lynch are not given enough screen time to properly portray their characters.

The film's primary effect is on the senses. Everything is brought together into a disturbing foreshadow of dreadful secrets. How did this woman escape from a cell locked from outside, with the walls being thick enough to withstand cannon fire? What is the staff hiding? Who is Andrew Laeddis? These kinds of questions are at the heart of film. And then, there are the striking visuals coupled with almost-perfect cinematography. From a high mountainous terrain with water crashing down onto the lower rocks to the eerie lighthouse which is always in the background, the film is almost like its own haunted house story (or rather a haunted fort or island).

The only problem with the film (other than some of the acting) is that the film falls short in its effort to portray the quieter moments. Since we are so invested in the primary storyline and mystery, the quieter and more emotional moments, feel like they are dragging on for too long.

Overall, ‘Shutter Island’ is an exceptional neo-noir thriller with striking visuals, an engaging central storyline and a great central performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. I would give this an eight out of ten, and I would highly recommend watching this film.

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