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Review

Psychological thriller impresses with acting, story

Michael Brun

February 26, 2010

I was starting to get worried that I’d never get a chance to see Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.” Originally slated for an October release, Paramount Pictures decided to delay it until late February. Although pushing
its premier out of the crowded Oscar-hopeful season may have been the financially smart move, it’s going to
prevent the film from receiving any award show consideration. Now that I’ve seen it, I can say with certainty that this is a real shame. “Shutter Island” is a first-rate psychological thriller that would’ve been deserving of some Oscar love.

Scorsese’s first feature-length film since 2006’s “The Departed,” “Shutter Island” departs from the domain of organized crime and brings us into the world of the criminally insane.

Deputy Marshals Teddy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are dispatched to the unreasonably creepy Shutter Island, home to a unique mental hospital that specializes in only the worst of the worst offenders. One of the patients has mysteriously escaped from her cell, and it’s up to the Marshals to find out how.

With its moody sets and eerie lighting, “Shutter Island” oozes suspense. The hospital is atmospheric to the extreme, ensconced in a foreboding wilderness that isolates it from the outside world. It’s beautifully shot, forming the perfect backdrop for this nightmarish tale.

Directors of photography (also called cinematographers) are often overshadowed when praising a film, but I feel it would be a disservice to not mention one here. Taking credit for “Shutter Island” is multiple-award-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson. Although you may not have heard of him before, you’ve probably seen his work in such films as “Platoon,” “Casino” and “Kill Bill.” The man is a genius when it comes to lighting and scene composition. Were “Shutter Island” released back in October, I can almost guarantee that he would be up for a cinematography Oscar.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if some of the actors received nods as well. Leading the pack is DiCaprio, whose decent into madness is gripping and real. Some of DiCaprio’s best roles were under the direction of Scorsese, and “Shutter Island” is no exception. Rounding out the cast are the venerable Ben Kingsley and the ever-dependable Mark Ruffalo. Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from last year’s “Watchmen,” and soon to be Freddy in the upcoming “Nightmare on Elm Street” reboot) also makes a brief but memorable appearance as one of the island’s more damaged patients.

Because of its twisty-turny nature, I won’t spoil the plot of “Shutter Island” other than to say that it’s a real doozy. It’s filled with so many surreal dream and flashback sequences that it’s easy to lose track of reality. By film’s end, you’ll be so off balance that its surprise ending will hit you just as hard as it does DiCaprio.

Expertly shot and acted, “Shutter Island” is a mindbending trip that you won’t soon forget. This is classic horror, hearkening to the Hitchcockian era of atmosphere and suspense. The wait may have been long, but it was well worth it for this must-see film.

Michael Brun is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.