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Movie Review | Shutter Island

Waiting for it all to click like a camera...


Movie summary: In 1954, a U.S. Marshal investigates the disappearance of a murderer who escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane. (IMDb)

It's difficult to talk about Shutter Island, not just because it has a very easy to spoil plot, but because describing why the plot is easy to spoil could also be considered a spoiler! The story initially starts out as a mystery that you'd expect to lead to some grand reveal, except said 'reveal' is so heavily foreshadowed that it's hard to not see it coming.

Or, to be more precise, I'd say it's easy to see what the reveal is that the story is leading towards, but the why is more interesting. Then again, there may be those who take everything at face value from the start and assume all the suspicious glances and air of paranoia is perfectly fine to take at face value and could be genuinely surprised.

And that's why Shutter Island is so difficult to talk about: it's a movie that depends on who's watching. That summary above is accurate to how the story begins, but it takes very little time to start planting seeds of what's to come and, to me, made it pretty obvious what was going on.

The thing is, if you don't really know anything more about cinema than as entertainment material to be enjoyed - which is completely fine and how the majority of people watch movies - then you won't really wonder why the director, Martin Scorsese, chooses to show certain things other than to show them.

If you do understand that focusing on these things is because they're important and should be noticed, it's relatively simple to figure out fairly early on where the story is headed and the tension of a reveal instead becomes dramatic irony, leaving you wondering how the characters will react when they figure it all out too.

This isn't to say the characters are stupid and the audience is smarter than them, this is the audience having the advantage of being able to see things they can't thanks to a particular shot being chosen, or subtly informed that something appearing to be innocent may have a more important part to play later on.

If you don't figure out Shutter Island's secrets in advance, that's no bad thing either. You'll get a double whammy of a reveal and the explanation of it all one after the other, rather than waiting for the characters, and Leonardo DiCaprio's Teddy in particular, to uncover why everything is happening the way it is.

And this isn't coming from a place of having seen the movie multiple times and spotting the set-ups the second time around either - the first time I saw this film, I figured out what Teddy was going to learn before he did, but subsequent watches revealed just how many clues I'd missed out on the first time around.

The biggest issue I had is that Shutter Island is quite a long movie and, if you pay attention and pick up on the huge amount of foreshadowing going on, it can feel even longer than it is and as if it doesn't really have enough meat on its bones. Strangely, I'd say it's possibly more satisfying if you don't pay close attention.

Regardless, the most interesting part of the story is Teddy's reaction to the truth being revealed and how people perceive that. I have my theory on what happens and it being quite bittersweet, but I'd argue that no definitive answer is given in the movie and can easily see how others might think of it as more tragic than anything else - it's certainly not upbeat, that's for sure.

As for the cast, DiCaprio is as good as you'd expect, ably supported by Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams who all give excellent performances. If you've only watched Shutter Island once, or didn't figure out what Teddy uncovers before he does, I'd highly recommend going back to watch it a second time, especially to see what great jobs Ruffalo and Kingsley do with their characters.

And, as you'd expect from Scorsese, the movie is impeccably-crafted, with some truly fantastic visuals and top notch production work on display - I just don't think the story is a good match for the director's supreme skill. Watching it for this review is probably the last time I'll ever want to, with there being plenty of other Scorsese movies I'd pick to see again over this one.

Shutter Island is a tricky movie to judge, with it being more dependent on the viewer and how much attention they're paying to what's going that'll decide how satisfying it turns out to be, with an ending that won't make it any easier to come to a firm conclusion. It's as brilliantly made as any other Scorsese film and definitely enjoyable to watch, but not one of his best.




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