Studio: Paramount Pictures
US Rating: Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.
Film Length: 138 Minutes
Video: Color / 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, and Spanish
“Don't you get it? You're a rat in a maze.”
The Film: 4.5 out of 5
Great directors will make art out of disparate sources and ever-changing faces of actors and actresses. They will explore in stories, varied and perhaps unrelated, the condition of the human spirit and soul, and will find the craft of filmmaking an unquenchable thirst. The truly great directors alive today are precious few. But in the top (if not atop) of a short list must be Martin Scorsese. We enjoy film as expressions of art; as escapist entertainment, and even as informers of the world around us. When a filmmaker wields the craftsmanship of filmmaking across stories as bold and raw as Raging Bull, as extraordinarily unnerving as Cape Fear, as unusual and underappreciated as Kundun, or as gritty as Mean Streets, his mark on cinema is forever etched. At the core of each of his films is the character or characters that we will get to know, and understand a little better as they come to know and understand themselves a little better (for better or worse). Sometimes with delicacy, sometimes with brutality; his stories and his characters are mortals of fractured lives in pursuit of a question or an answer veiled as the pursuit of violence, supremacy, revenge, or in the case of Shutter Island, resolution.
In art house films, festival circuit regulars you can find the craft of filmmaking without the veneer of commercial pursuit. Scorsese, like a handful of great American filmmakers, has long held both cards; an ability to explore humanity and great stories through the construct of a frame and the flourish of character and dialogue, while assembling, at times, cinematic endeavors of commercial viability.
From the opening moments, with the ominous sounds of Fog Tropes, performed by the Orchestra of St. Lukes, and the dark, foreboding simmers of Symphony No. 3: Passacaglia – Allegro Moderato, looming in the ears like that niggling sense that all is not right, Shutter Island grips with its superbly crafted atmosphere, and proceeds to build upon a seemingly simple idea. That idea begins on an overcast morning in 1954, and with the investigation into the case of an escaped criminally insane mental patient from her locked and sealed room, on a secluded, remote Island. On this island, home to a formidable old Civil War fort, is a large hospital complex which houses an assortment of the criminally insane who are unfit for the standard prison system. Two U.S. Marshalls, Teddy Daniels (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo), who are meeting for the first time on this case, arrive to look into the disappearance. Daniels and Aule attempt an investigation, meeting with the prison/hospital staff, the guards, the doctors and the nurses – as well as the somewhat oblique and obfuscating head of the facility, Dr. Cawley, but it is quickly apparent that this is no ordinary case – or place. Dr. Crawly (played by Ben Kingsley) appears disarming, but his appearance of not being forthcoming stirs suspicion in Daniels. Interviews with the criminally insane inhabitants seem to confirm Daniels aroused and heightened level of distrust.
The acting is superb. DiCaprio as the tenacious and on-edge Daniels delivers in scene after scene. We are given flashbacks of Daniels from before he was a Marshall; flashbacks which inform his state of mind, and looking deeper, indicate where he is going, but in each sequence, which almost spars with his present, DiCaprio is so entirely immersed in his character that it is difficult to consider him anything other than one of the finest actors working today. As his new partner, Ruffalo’s portrayal of Aule is solid. His character is in many ways the apprentice to DiCaprio’s teacher in Daniels. Ruffalo has played the second main character in a number of films and been terrific in that capacity. In Reservation Road, and in the terrific Blindness, he played nice guys, imbued with normalcy, until something extraordinary or tragic traps him. In Shutter Island, he is required to be a step behind the almost truculent and unorthodox approach to investigating undertaken by Daniels. And finally is Sir Ben Kingsley, whose passive-aggressive posturing doesn’t demand too terribly much from him, but Kingsley still manages to deliver with efficacy. The remainder of the cast includes Ted Levine, Max Von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, and Elias Koteas. Each well suited to their roles and confident in their portrayals.
Certainly Shutter Island, which is adapted from Dennis Lehane’s bestselling book released in 2003, has its popular draw from the intriguing mystery and the fine cast; that and the promise of quality from one of the greatest film directors to have ever lived. But the mystery and the twist are not merely rote; by the final act it is entirely likely that you will feel confident you have guessed the nature of the twist – but by that time, it isn’t really what’s important anymore. The magnificence of Scorsese’s direction and the engrossing narrative of the tale as layer upon layer of questions and answers are hinted at or revealed, along with a story which organically grows and maneuvers, results in an experience which sincerely becomes about the journey as much as the destination. And for a film like Shutter Island, that means the viewer can be richly rewarded by repeat viewings.
Every component of Shutter Island is of the finest quality, from the seamless and subtle visual effects work melded with Robert Richardson’s glorious cinematography (Richardson served as Director of Photography on greats such as the Kill Bill films, JFK, Inglorious Basterds, and Platoon), to the eccentric and often somber tenor of the music (supervised by Robbie Robertson), with selections from Brian Eno, Suite for Symphonic Strings: Nocturne, and This Bitter Earth performed by Dinah Washington. The film allows its space to be inhabited by characters which become increasingly complex, in a tale paced with urgency, with cleverly veiled elements in the nooks and crannies of the aged and storm-battered facility. Shutter Island is glorious filmmaking.
The Video: 4.5 out of 5
Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, in 1080p High Definition, Shutter Island looks extraordinary on Blu-ray. The almost earthy grey tone of the Island bristles with detail, delivering superb detail while not costing the look of film. The muted tone of the film does not forgo bright greens or elements of richer colors. Interior sequences are extremely well and interestingly lit, so the hospital is awash with whites (though the kind of white of an older, well-used facility) and the cell interiors are dark, deep grays with the heavy presence of black with sharp shards of light. Scenes of exceeding brightness (relative to the story) and rendered beautifully. Flesh tones are very life-like and DiCaprio’s flushed face through the film is just as you would expect a man dealing with what he is to look. This is a top-notch looking disc.
The Sound: 4.5 out of 5
With a pristine English 5.1 DTS HD Master audio track (as well as French, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks), Shutter Island succeeds in bringing the sense of foreboding, unease, and claustrophobia at times to life throughout the channels. Ample use of surrounds, unafraid use of the deep end of the spectrum (during the storm, ocean and more intense sequences), and clarity throughout all channels conjures a near-perfect audio.
The Extras: 2.5 out of 5
Behind The Shutters (HD) (17:10):After the warning that this extra feature contains important plot details and twists from the film, we are treated to not unexpected, but still interesting, positive comments from the cast. Most interestingly are the comments from Dennis Lehane about the inspiration for writing the book. As the title card warns, don’t watch this until you have seen the film.
Into The Lighthouse (HD) (21:11):Once again, we are treated to a warning about spoilers, we explore the nature of insanity – an interesting peek into the source notions of insanity.
Martin Scorsese, beyond the gifts behind the camera, has the heart of a preservationist – declared from his love of the magnificent films which inspired and informed who he is today. He is protector, pursuer, pioneer, passenger, and principle of the art-form he so loves. Shutter Island is Scorsese’s most commercially successful film globally with an almost $300MM gross (and his second most successful film domestically with over $128MM, second only to The Departed) and deservedly so; a stunning mix of good old fashion intriguing story with the ingredients of a master craftsman at the top of his game.
Shutter Islandis easily Highly Recommended!