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February 24, 2010 > Movie Review: Shutter Island - A Classic and Creepy Masterpiece

Movie Review: Shutter Island - A Classic and Creepy Masterpiece

By Joe Samagond

Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island (2010) is a classic thriller with gothic undertones. Scorsese delivers a masterpiece reminiscent of the work of two of his idols, Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Powell. The story is set in 1954 in the Boston Harbor Islands, one of which houses the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The movie opens on a ferry carrying Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) to Ashecliffe to investigate the disappearance of a patient. As Teddy dives headfirst into the inquiry, twists, switchbacks, and surprises take him on a disturbing journey into the human mind.

The island is foreboding and has a spectacular landscape of jutting cliffs, black shale, and eerily stormy skies. The hospital itself is a set of beautiful red brick buildings that is typically New England. We learn quickly this hospital is not what it seems. Doctors who run it, Dr. JohnCawley (Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Jeremiah Naehring (Max von Sydow), may be using inmates as lab rats and the latter may even have been a Nazi. The heart of the film becomes what's inside post-war alcoholic Daniels' head - what's real and what isn't. What happened to him during the war? How did his wife's death affect him? What's really happening to the inmates at the dark, scary hospital?

Scorsese's masterful direction is ably complemented by engaging performances, strong music scores, rich production design, and well layered screenplay. You sometimes get the feeling of being pulled deep into a maze so complex it threatens to cloud the story. However, despite the luridness and gore, the film maintains a pristine, suffocating atmosphere that keeps one guessing about what's next.

The coup de grace at the end may not be a surprise to canny moviegoers but may leave some disappointed. In fact as the final revelation approaches, the stakes diminish and a sense that the whole movie has been a bit strained does start to cross your mind. However, at its heart, the movie is made with the classics in mind. It's a brilliantly made and enjoyable film that keeps the viewer mostly engaged. If you go expecting a great story told in the compelling fashion of films noir, you will not be disappointed.

Rated: R (disturbing violent content, language and some nudity)
Runtime: 2 hour 20 minutes

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