Take Trip to Riveting ‘Shutter Island’ With Leonardo DiCaprio

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CHICAGO – “Shutter Island” is a riveting trip through a cinematic funhouse led by one of the best filmmakers of all time in Martin Scorsese, who fully employs the copious skills of his most talented collaborators including star Leonardo DiCaprio. It is a technical masterpiece that gets under your skin and stays there for days.

With award caliber work by DiCaprio, co-star Michelle Williams, cinematographer Robert Richardson, production designer Dante Ferretti, costume designer Sandy Powell, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and, of course, Martin Scorsese, “Shutter Island” has already divided some viewers and critics, some of which think that it is nothing more than a masterful technical exercise, as if that doesn’t have value in a world where so many films display no technical expertise whatsoever. This is an all-star team of filmmaking and they’ve delivered one of the most mesmerizing films in a long time.

Shutter Island
Shutter Island
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

We are introduced to “Shutter Island” lead U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) in a physically ill state on a boat travelling to the titular location, a desolate chunk of land that holds a mental hospital for the criminally insane. He will never look quite right as his physical state clearly hides more demons than just seasickness.

A “guest” of the island named Rachel Solando has gone missing in the middle of the night. She was there at lockdown and she wasn’t there in the morning but her shoes are still in her room and there’s a serious storm on the horizon. Dr. Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley) explains to Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) that Rachel drowned her three children and then set them up at the kitchen table as if nothing had happened. Where did she go? What does the cryptic note she left mean? What other secrets might the island hold?

Marshall Daniels served in World War II and clearly still has a few psychological issues of his own, many of which could be related to his liberation of a concentration camp. He feels like he didn’t do enough in WWII and he’s not going to make that mistake again. The island holds secrets and he’s going to discover them. With visually stunning precision, we learn that Daniels is struggling with several issues, including memories of his wife (Michelle Williams), who died in a fire possibly set by a current resident of the hospital’s most dangerous ward. Max Von Sydow, Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, Emily Mortimer, and Elias Koteas all make a noticeable impact in small roles.

Shutter Island
Shutter Island
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

From the begining of “Shutter Island,” Scorsese is trying to create confusion and dread in his audience. From the musical choices by supervisor Robbie Robertson to the riveting dream sequences, he keeps his audience one step behind the plot, racing around the island with Daniels himself. The remarkable production design and costume work perfectly blend together with Richardson’s use of shadow and color to create something like a fever dream.

As for the performances, they’re all excellent, most notably scene-stealing turns by Williams, Haley, and Clarkson, but this is DiCaprio’s film all the way. It’s easily one of the best performances of his career. He perfectly sells the mental cracks in this character and as he goes further and further down the rabbit hole, a lot is demanded of DiCaprio as an actor, including going to some emotionally devastating places. It’s another mature, remarkable performance from one of our best actors.

“Shutter Island” is a nightmare on celluloid, a riveting piece of work from first frame to last. The film has reminded many viewers of another technical display from a filmmaker who was recognized at the time as one of the best living - Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Like that film, I believe it will take time for the criticism of “Shutter Island” to turn to praise. People will return to “Shutter Island” for decades to come and get new things out of it every time. It’s the rare film that rewards multiple viewings. It’s nice to get one this good so early in the year. It might be awhile before we see another one this good.

‘Shutter Island’ stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Elias Koteas, and Max Von Sydow. It was written by Laeta Kalogridis from the book by Dennis Lehane and directed by Martin Scorsese. It opened on February 19th, 2010. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

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