Shutter Island (2010) Review (R) With Some Rambling

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island is probably the best movie I’ve seen this year while being the biggest disappointment. This is the least of the 4 movies that Scorsese has teamed with lead actor DiCaprio.

DiCaprio and Scorsese (with Michelle Williams in center)

Other than the movie’s trailer, I knew nothing about the story, but very early on (like the first 15 minutes) found myself quite aware  of where the movie was going and how it would end. It felt like I was strapped to the bow of the ferry in the  movie slowly drifting towards the Martin Scorsese film ‘Shutter Island’, but realizing that I was instead  caught in the sometimes turbulent rip-current of an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

‘The Village’ comes to mind , where I forecast the film’s story from the teaser movie poster. I was quietly pleading that the ferry’s captain (Scorsese) would right the vessel’s course and head into a direction that I did not see coming, but alas… nope.

But, it may just be me*.

*BEGINNING OF SIDE NOTE: I think it may be necessary to give just a slight bit of information of myself as a movie fan. I watch a lot of movies. I recently created my Best  and Worst Movie Lists of the Last 10 years. In the 2000s I made about  1000 trips to the movie theater. I’d say most people would think that’s a ridiculous amount of trips to the movie theater. They’re probably right, but I love movies and I won’t even try to figure out the number of movies rentals… I also do not limit myself to specific genres or mainstream films.I seek quality movies, no matter what the genre…. My last trip to Blockbuster I rented 4 (500 Days Of Summer, Martyrs, Franklyn and City Of God… I batted ‘.500’ on those 4, I guess). And I won’t even mention my addiction to channels like TCM… My point: I see a lot of movies. It may just be me.

Generally, there are certain ways that movies (or stories for that matter) work, if they’re done ‘right’. There is a language of storytelling tricks/devices/elements that are used by anyone that makes films (or stories). Story structure. Red Herrings. MacGuffins. Flashbacks. Foreshadowing. You can start at the beginning of a story. You can start at the end of a story. You can work backwards, forwards or jump around. This movie does all of that (yes, it starts at the beginning and the end, sort of). You can tell stories straightforward or do something like Rashomon, where you get several retellings of the same view. You kind of get that here (in a way), along with the audience finding out information as the main character does, which is typical of suspense thrillers. Being someone who wants to tell stories, I study story in all of its different forms. I read novels, comic books (which in terms of storytelling can be like static films in the right creators’ hands), and films themselves. When you’ve seen it enough, you begin to recognize it when, again, it’s done ‘right’. My point: I see a lot of movies. It may just be me.

SEMI-END OF SIDE NOTE: Movies also make use of symbolism and character actions may take on deeper meaning than just the literal act represented. Shutter Island makes use of many symbols and motifs  that have been used since right from the beginning of cinema.

Right from the start of the film, Scorsese makes use of the deeper meanings of a ship coming out of a thick fog. He ties in the lead character’s symbolic ties to water. He portrays an impending storm. He later uses several symbols depicting illumination from a simple match, to shadowy  prison cells, to a lighthouse.

And in a movie about insanity, he uses one of the tried and true symbols of madness: the portrayal of a character moving up or down a spiral staircase. Hitchcock used that one a lot, which figures since Scorsese gave the movie’s cast a screening of Vertigo ( I read that, anyway), to give them an indication of the tone that he was shooting for. Sometimes directors try to make use of symbols and fail. They hint at some deeper meaning, but without making it obvious to what the symbols mean, then the symbolism is lost and there
is no meaning. But Scorsese is a director who knows what he’s doing and what he is doing is instantly recognizable and for me, gives away where he is going with the story. My point: I see a lot of movies. It may just be me.


If you haven’t seen as many films I have, you may not see the ending coming (but you still might). Regardless of knowing where it’s going, it’s still a very well made film (and pays a lot of homage to the film noir B movies of yesteryear). The quality of the film is topnotch from it’s director to the cast to the production crew.  I loved the look of this movie. The film has a style more reminiscent of another crime noir homage made by the director: Cape Fear. It’s dark and gritty and  looks like the throwback that is , albeit with harder edges.

Interesting footnote: This character had a visible neck scar ‘erased’ from the trailer.

Scorsese has always been kind of a minimalist straightforward storyteller, but you can always tell that it’s one of his films. He has for the most part concentrated on stories that are very much grounded in reality and has rarely ventured into the fantastic. I don’t think he’s very comfortable doing that, and for me, it showed in Shutter Island.

There were  a few dream sequences scattered throughout, that didn’t seem very inspired, although probably not without reason (I assume he was trying to blur the line between reality and insanity). But that’s just a minor nitpick.

The premise of Shutter Island is that 2 Federal Marshals have been brought in to investigate the escape of one of the insane asylum’s 66 violent inmates/patients.

The insane asylum  is on an island with only one point of entry since the island’s terra firma sits atop a base of sheer cliff walls.

One of the Marshals is Teddy Daniels (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who is a bit hydrophobic for some reason and seems to know there is something going on below the surface of the main investigation.

He soon discovers that there may be a 67th patient that the hospital’s staff appears to want to cover up. Saying anymore would probably give too much away, although if you’re like me….

The movie has a great cast beginning with DiCaprio, who I think really is a solid actor.  Of the 4 movies that he has teamed with Scorsese, this one required him to show a lot more ‘extreme’ emotional states. I think he was actually better than the script material.

I feel like I need to run down the entire cast to convey what a great job they did, along with DiCaprio. Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow are not stranger’s to the villain roles and both are both typically good at looking bad. Kingsley adds a lot of nuance to any character he plays and in roles like this, you can’t be sure what his intentions are. Von Sydow on the other hand, doesn’t have to act a whole lot to play a ‘scary german guy’.

Mark Ruffalo, who is himself a fine actor, seems a little out of place in the film. Not him as much as his character. He’s once again kind of a nice guy, which he plays well, but everyone else in the film falls into the intense, sinister or outright crazy categories. Ruffalo brought along a few of his ‘Zodiac’ co-stars whom I enjoyed seeing: John Carroll-Lynch and Elias Koteas. Koteas is barely recognizable here. Both of them don’t have a whole lot to do, other than to briefly act sinister (there’s that word again).

Former child star Jackie Earle Haley continues his career comeback. I’m very happy to see that continue being a fan of his early movies like Breaking Away and the Bad News Bears.Also enjoyed seeing Patricia Clarkson who makes a cameo as… well can’t give it away I guess…

But there was a lot of ‘acting talent’ in smaller roles. Ted Levine, Emily Mortimer, even Michelle Williams who despite being in a pivotal role in the film doesn’t really get to develop a character to any length.

The look of the film is excellent. It’s dark and the sets are very dark and textured. Surprisingly, though, for a film set in an insane asylum it wasn’t very creepy. This movie lacked a lot of the actiual tension from The Departed or Gangs of New York. I also found the soundtrack a little distracting.

The movie begins with ocean view shots of the island, itself and the music underscores the dread and foreboding along with the grey sky, but I thought it started to resemble parody when every single small moment was escorted by booming brass instruments. Shots of the dock: deep blaring horns.

The under-utilized John Carroll-Lynch…

Shots of the guards: deep blaring horns. Getting into the jeep: deep blaring horns. Seeing the gates to the insane asylum: deep blaring horns.

Big horns go here…

Opening the gates: deep blaring horns. You get the idea. I thought it was overdone.

This is also another case where I thought there was too much left in the film, also. Like I just mentioned, Scorsese spent a large amount of time just showing DiCaprio and Ruffalo getting from the ferry to the asylum. You can chalk that up to setting up mood, but I felt like it was overkill. The movie’s ending also suffers from this. When the big ‘reveal’ comes, it is lingered upon for an extended period of time. After being filled in extensively of what actually happened earlier in the story, Scorsese feels the need to showing it in snore-fest fashion. When the movie is supposed to be hitting a climax, it slows to an absolutely tedious crawl. After that, we get another epilogue-like ending.

There were also several other scenes that I thought were well done, but completely unnecessary. Where Scorsese usually is ‘riffing’ here he seemed to be just meandering and navel gazing. As I mentioned before there are a lot of great actors in the film. I wonder if that hurt the overall film. Instead of ‘telling the story’, the movie would kind of come to a stop so that yet another actor could show off their ability.

I think some extensive editing could have made a ‘tighter’ film. I think it would have fit the story better. The 2 hour and 18 minutes seemed a little long for the story. The story material was not that of an epic. By the end of this I had melted into the theater chair. When I got up after the credits it felt like I had been a passenger in a 4 hour car ride.

By no means do I think that this was a bad film. I’m giving it 3.5 of 5 whatevers. I think the fact that I knew how it was going to end took some of my enthusiasm for it away. I also thought the whole ‘role-playing’ explanation was pretty weak . If you see the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about when it finally pops up. But, again, it may just be me. You may think it’s the best movie of the year (but so far, so do I).

8 Responses to “Shutter Island (2010) Review (R) With Some Rambling”

  1. […] list: Ondine… The American… Scott Pilgrim vs The World… Edge Of Darkness…  Shutter Island… even Robin Hood. I may be the only one that liked one or two of these. Anyway, here’s […]

  2. […] this character. He’s never been good at the films where he tries to use symbolism (see also my review of the painfully predictable Shutter Island) and here as in other films where je does this it feels like he’s fumbling for his keys in […]

  3. Oh one thing I did notice – was it me or was it similiar to the Sixth Sense in the way that there as a lot of “white” symoblism? White lamps, white sheets, white clothes and then as he ran up the spiral staircase near the end and entered the rooms of the lighthouse (which was white!) ALL the door handles on the wooden doors were WHITE!!!…What is the meaning behind that?? Or was it me..looking TOO hard?? As I say I’m no expert

    • Crash! Landen Says:

      Most movies have set decorators and art directors that work with directors to come up with the specific colors (colours) that are seen in films. The white probably pertained to the same meaning as the white veil of fog seen at the beginning of the movie or maybe alluding to his… well, again i try not to give stuff away and what I would say about that would give the whole movie away… Anyway. Does ‘blank slate’ or ‘wiping a slate clean’ mean anything to you? 😉

      As long as you enjoyed the movie, but remember the critics LOVE this movie, so…

      And thanks for the comments. I appreciate the input!

  4. Yes I agree with everything you say….but I do think that the majority of the public wouldn’t see it in the same way as you and many many people I have spoken to thought it was absolutely brilliant – barr the ending which came as a bit of a twist, not a hint of a twist..exactly what you expected – which was a little disappointing. But all the devices/elements of foreboding symoblism totally washed over me and probably the general public which I percieved exactly as it was intended. As you say Scorcese does his job very well. I personally can’t stand films that critics love, they’re usually so deep the entire plot is lost! Remember there are millions and millions of people watching Corrie and Eastenders and loving it – so in my opinion Shutter island is fantastic – it is a psychological thriller that hits all the spots and does exactly what it says on the tin brilliantly and I walked away from the cinema thinking I watched a great film (but slightly disappointed with the end) – but then again I am NOT a big film goer…more an Eastender watcher and the average joe in the street.

    • Crash! Landen Says:

      I’ve heard it go both ways. I’ve heard other people say like you have that it was brilliant and ‘messed with their mind’. The guy sitting directly in front of me on the other hand got up from his chair and proclaimed “Well, that sucked”.

      “Corrie and Eastenders “. Never heard of it. That must be a UK thing. Heck, Baywaytch had a gazillion watchers, didn’t it? I watch movies that were bad, but I enjoy them anyway, also.

      I think you’re throwing the proverbial blanket over critics. When you say ‘critics’ I think you’re talking about the pretentious snobs that ‘snub’ movies, are elitist wannabes who want their peers to think they’re geniuses and have their own hidden personal agendas behind their reviews. In my view, the definition of ‘critic’ is someone who puts their opinion of something to paper/the internet/whatever and gets paid for it. But I really believe in the phrase “Everyone’s a critic. If you HAVE an opinion (and everyone does), then you’re a critic.

      The critics that are taken a bit more seriously are the ones that ARE serious about what they’re saying and have intelligent reasoning behind their opinions, but it doesn’t mean they’re any more right than you are. I personally, like listening to some critics (like Mark Kermode in the UK), because they sometimes provide more insights into movies than the actors involved. I just relistened to Roger Ebert’s Dark City commentary. The guy loves movies, obviously and provides much more more interesting commentary than someone who likes a movie for being “cool” or liking a movie because you like ‘the chick with the big titties’ in the movie.

      If you want to take things at face value, that’s fine. Most movies are made for that surface value, but the god ones (the ones that ‘the critics’ love) usually have something a bit deeper.

      I think if you read my ‘reviews’ (if they can be called that, you’ll see that I love movies, especially the ones where they try a little harder. I disagree with ‘critics’ often as you appear to (I loved Strange Wilderness for example… I know it was bad, but enjoyed it anyway. I also ABSOLUTELY HATED Million Dollar Baby. That won the Academy Award….). I do value when I see movies that have given some degree of intelligence to what they’re making, instead of the alternative. Die Hard’s a great example of a movie that’s intelligent and fun. Just because it’s ‘accessible’, doesn’t mean it has to be dumb.

      I wopuld hope that you would rethink your blanket statement, though (“I personally can’t stand films that critics love…”). The Hunt For Red October… The Terminator… Die Hard… The Bourne movies… Ghostbusters… American Pie… CAsino Royale… Toy Story… Jaws…Star Wars… Raiders of The Lost Ark… Schindler’s List… Saving Private Ryan… The critics all loved those. REALLY? You hate these movies?

  5. Crash! Landen Says:

    Thanks! I try…

  6. musesicman Says:

    Nicely done – very thought out ; )

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