As the film opens, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are on a ferry headed to Shutter Island to invesitage the disappearance of a patient from the Ashcliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. A storm is on the way and the sky is grey and overcast. Teddy Daniels is seasick and vomiting. And soon, Shutter Island is looming in the distance.
Visually, it looks stunning. But that isn't what's important here. What's important is how much foreboding is packed into this short opening sequence. The scene couldn't have been more than five minutes and we're not even at the island yet, but already, you can sense the atmosphere of the movie. It's not quite haunting at this point, but it's already plenty unnerving.
As soon as we reach the island, with the guards waiting on the dock to greet the US marshals, you already get the feeling that we shouldn't be here. The feeling intensifies as the marshalls approach the main gate of the compound and the electrified fence does nothing to ease it. The guards, led by Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carroll Lynch), are nice enough, but we still don't trust them. McPherson is stern and unrelenting when enforcing the rules upon the Marshalls, and we feel a little uneasy when he asks for their firearms, but he's only doing his job. Still, we get the feeling that he's going beyond his duty.
Taking the imposing security measures, the Deputy Warden who doesn't seem to be as open as he should be, and the hospital inhabitants at work around the yard, particularly the one with the large garden shears, and you begin to put a reason behind the troubled feeling in your gut. As much as I was anticipating the movie, and I was dug in waiting for a great ride, there was also a feeling of dread so strong that part of me wanted the marshalls to leave immediately and never come back, even if it meant I was out seven bucks.
The Marshalls next meet Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), the hospital's chief physician, who feels them in on the missing patient, Rachel Solando. It turns out that Mrs. Solando is in the hospital because she drowned her three children, which further puts you on edge. You no longer know if the Marshalls are looking for a missing patient or an escaped fugitive.
The reason I go so in depth with the plot summary is to try to convey the atmosphere that I mentioned above. It's the film's greatest quality, which is saying a lot, because of everything the film has going for it. I can't say much more about the plot without giving it away, but as you might expect, things are not what they seem at the Ashcliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
The acting in Shutter Island is immaculate, and I use that word knowing full well what it means. There wasn't a single performance in the movie that was anything less than stellar. Leonardo DiCaprio's turn as Teddy Daniels just reaffirms why I'm such a big fan of his. Ben Kingsley does an amazing job as Dr. Cowley and he's so damn likable even when he's doing nothing but getting in the Marshalls' way. And while those two stand out, their performances wouldn't be nearly as effective if the supporting cast hadn't done their jobs just as well.
It's hard to go into the few things I didn't like about shutter Island without spoiling parts of it, but there are tidbits of the plot here and there and in the ending that I'm unsure of, but there's a good chance that upon a second viewing everything will seem more tightly constructed. Any problems I did have were not nearly serious enough to take away from the overall film, and in the end, I don't even remember what my complaints were, only that I had a few.
Shutter Island is a remarkable film. So many elements of the movie worked so well that any one of them alone would be worth seeing, but they add up to a sum that is required viewing.
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