Shutter Island: *** (out of 4)

What else can I really say about Shutter Island without spoiling the movie for somebody? This is a Twist Movie, and there are two fundamental problems with reviewing Twist Movies:

  • The reviews are for two different groups of people: those that are trying to figure out the twist, and those that want to know how the movie hangs together when the twist is known. These groups are irreconcilable.

  • Even talking about the movie's premise can stray into spoiler territory pretty easily.

So perhaps I should start small.

First of all, this is not a horror movie, unlike what the trailers suggested. Instead, it is a psychological thriller, set in the 1950s on an island in Boston Harbor. In fact, the only part that the trailer got unambiguously right is the people involved; it does indeed star Leonardo DiCaprio, it includes a pretty impressive supporting cast, and it is clearly directed by Martin Scorsese. The marketing team probably would have been better to focus only on that.

While the movie is clearly a Twist Movie, it's actually a fairly straightforward one. This isn't a movie where you're going to come out and say "I see how he tricked me!" - indeed, you may see where it's going a mile away - but this turns out to be a perfectly reasonable way to handle things. The movie is methodical and consistently paced, and it benefits from this quite nicely.

The setting and time period turned out to be more interesting than I expected it to be. The characters, living on an island with little contact with the mainland, seemed to be connected to the world at large in much the same way as the viewing audience was; that is to say, indirectly and with only a basic understanding of what was really important at the time. Only the racial issues were truly jarring; the rest just seemed a little bit unreal, but so did life on the island itself.

And... well, that's about all of the gross details that I can offer. That, and "I liked it"...

...well, okay, a couple of details.

  • The opening of the movie takes place on a ferry, taking Federal Marshall Ted Daniels to the titular island. The main thing I noticed in the opening scene, besides the ominous soundtrack and general character introductions, was some second-rate green-screen work. This bothered me at the time, but as it turned out, it helped set the tone for the movie as a whole. Who knew that a little bit of poor special effects work could benefit the movie as a whole?

  • The most jarring part of the movie was Ted Levine playing the institute's Warden. Having seen him over the last few years primarily as Captain Leland Stottlemeyer in Monk, it was hard to even recognize him without a moustache. He did a fine job, but it was shocking.

  • I don't know how much of a mental connection I had made between the 1950s and World War II before this movie. That's changed now.

Anyway - it was worth seeing. It's not Scorsese's best work, but I'm not complaining. He certainly did a better job with this than, say, M Night Shyamalan would have done.