Film: Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010) is the perfect movie for a gray, dreary day — beautifully shot, dark, twisty, mysterious.  It takes place in the mid-1950s on an island off the coast of Massachussetts that houses a large mental institution.  U.S Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonard DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) travel out to the island to investigate the disappearance of one of the institution’s most dangerous prisoners.  Early interviews with lead psychiatrist Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) reveal that the escape was quite unlikely, and it soon becomes evident that Daniels — a World War II veteran haunted by visions of concentration camps and his wife’s tragic death — believes that something else entirely is going on.  Even after the prisoner is found, he continues his investigation, convinced that the federal institution is housing more than just patients — but as the search carries him into ever-darker corners of the island, he begins to doubt his own sanity.

This is a great, creepy combination of drama, horror, and mystery in the well traveled “is he crazy or is it a conspiracy?” subgenre, elevated by Scorsese’s typically compelling direction.  As usual with this kind of film, a certain suspension of disbelief is needed, but the proceedings are handled so sure-handedly that it takes little effort to submit.  The script performs a deft balancing act, walking the protagonist along a tightrope; as one perception of reality unravels, another is forming, but which one is real?  DiCaprio makes for a convincingly shellshocked protagonist, and the acting is superb across the boards, with great support from an impressive cast that includes Kingsley, Ruffalo, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Michelle Williams, Jackie Earle Haley, and the great Max von Sydow.  A very enjoyable mystery with the feel of classic filmmaking.

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