Saying this might make me seem insane, but Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island bored me silly. Having loved Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name (read my review here), I thought I’d at least enjoy the movie, maybe not as much as the book, since that rarely happens. Last thing I expected was to be sitting in the dark, rolling my eyeballs back and nodding off as if I’d been given too much Thorazine.

In 1954, U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are summoned to Ashecliffe, an institution for the criminally insane on an island off Boston Habor, to locate a missing patient, Rachel Solando. The woman seemingly escaped without shoes (island terrain is rocky) or anyone seeing her, from a room locked from the outside. The staff’s and marshals’ search efforts are hampered by a hurricane which shuts down the island’s electrical system, allowing all 66 violent offenders to run wild. But wait. Solando left behind a note implying there’s a 67th patient. Who is this mysterious person whose existence everyone denies?

And that’s just one of the island’s mysteries. Daniels and Aule soon wonder if the doctors at Ashecliffe are really treating their patients or doing illegal experiments on them. Daniels also has his own agenda for being there: He’s searching for his wife’s killer, Andrew Laeddis. The plot has more twists and turns than an Olympics slalom, culminating in a twist which may or may not shock you, depending on whether or not you read the book or are an especially astute viewer.

The cast is very good here. The intense DiCaprio and laid-back Ruffalo balance each other nicely; Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Cawley with a cool presence which keeps you guessing about his true intentions; Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson turn in notable performances as patients. (Michelle Williams, as Daniels’s deceased wife, doesn’t have much to do until the end.)

But the actors are failed by the movie’s sedate pacing. With this kind of (literally) crazy plot, the thriller should be more, well, thrilling. Instead, lots of long expositional scenes and dream sequences slow down the momentum, and characters meant to be creepy become less so when they linger on screen for too long talking too much.

Scorsese also heightens every scene with a lot of DRAMA: the hammering Bernard Herrmann-esque score, the artsy slo-mo and overly saturated colors in the dream sequences, twisty camera angles, lots of water imagery. It’s like announcing Creepy Scene Alert! at every turn, which takes away any surprise that might lie around the corner.

One might argue there are no surprises for people who have read the book. All I can say is, I also knew what would happen in Scorsese’s last movie, The Departed (having seen the original Hong Kong version Infernal Affairs), and still found it to be quite suspenseful. The director should have trusted his source material here; a leaner, less heavy-handed approach would have allowed the story’s creepiness to crawl under our skin.

Nerd verdict: More wreck than treasure on this Island

All photos © Paramount Pictures/Andrew Cooper



  • Reply
    February 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    BUMMER!!! I was looking forward to seeing this.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    I am a HUGE Scorsese fan. I also love Denis Lehane’s novels. I think I read Shutter Island just long enough ago to have forgotten the twist. Guess I won’t be going to see this. Okay, another $20 saved. Thanks!

  • Reply
    February 20, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    I hadn’t read the book, but I was actually pretty entertained throughout the film. The dream sequences were actually my favorite part. I thought they were gorgeous and pretty wrenching. More than the slow motion in those sequences, I was bothered by the quick pans in the beginning. My friend said they made it feel more like a Wes Anderson film than something by Scorsese.

    I figured out the twist pretty early on, but not the extent of it. The way the details all played out in the final reveal was actually pretty satisfying. It may have helped though that I went in with very low expectations. I’d seen the trailer twice tops and had no idea what to expect.

    Also, I jumped every time he lit a match in the scene with Jackie Earl Haley. I was seriously DYING, waiting for something terrible to happen.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Pity. This one was one of the ones I was expecting to see in the theater…

    Well, I’m still hoping for “Alice…”

  • Reply
    February 20, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    That’s disappointing to hear because I completely enjoyed the book. I mean when you finish a book thinking “holy freaking wow!” – ok, not a real intelligent review – but Shutter Island stayed on my mind for some time. And I figured Scorcese would do justice to the book. Regardless, am going to see the movie. Curiosity and DeCaprio are the reasons why. And I appreciate your honesty, Elyse. At least it won’t leave me too disgruntled with Hollywood.

    • Reply
      February 21, 2010 at 9:13 am

      “holy freaking wow!” works as a review for me! 😉

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    February 21, 2010 at 1:19 am

    This was on my ‘scary’ list anyway, as the sound of the book alone gave me the heebie-geebies and I just can’t bring myself to read or watch creepy stuff. Even though it sounds like the movie wouldn’t scare me as much as I’d expected, I’ll still be giving it a miss ~ I’m disappointed for the sakes of those who were anticipating it so keenly!! Thanks for the heads-up as always, PCN!

  • Reply
    February 21, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I’ll second EIREGO’s “BUMMER!” and Eric’s gratitude that you saved us the $20. Thanks for the review, PCN!

  • Reply
    Jen Forbus
    February 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I actually wasn’t going to spend my money to see this in the theater. Since I loved the book it was pretty much a given I would dislike the movie…I’m one of the ones who didn’t like GONE BABY GONE, afterall. I’m just too critical about changes that I think mar the plot. Anyway, I’ll probably get it when it’s out on DVD, just so I can find the elements to complain about…I’m like that sometimes! Ha!

    Thanks for the insight, PCN. The previews made the movie look rather horror/thriller-ish. It’s interesting to know the final effect is not so much so.

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