Shutter Island
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo
Rated R for disturbing, violent content, language
and some nudity.
2 hr., 18 min.

Well, that was unexpected — and I don’t mean the trumped-up twist ending. After months of anticipation and bad buzz seeping out of the Warner Brothers lot, it was fair to assume that Shutter Island was going to be a bit rough around the edges. Even though this was Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s follow-up to 2006’s critically and financially acclaimed The Departed, studio executives unceremoniously pulled the plug on an Oscar-baiting October release date in favor of an unheralded weekend in February. They did know that the film would come out nearly a month after Oscar nominations, right?

Needless to say, it turned out to be the right move. Not only did the film rake in the dough this weekend (to the tune of $40 million, the largest opening weekend for a Scorsese or DiCaprio movie — yes, this includes Titanic), it has the undivided attention of America’s movie-going public for one whole week. A luxury that probably wouldn’t have been granted if it had been sandwiched among Avatar, The Blind Side and Up in the Air.

Not only is Shutter Island worth seeing in theaters, it demands to be seen — for all its minor faults and foibles. Scorsese delivers a dense psychological thriller, and that means sitting in theaters for what seems like five hours (even though the film is only two) as you literally struggle through the depths of DiCaprio’s mind. But the slow-burning nature of the movie seems to fit. Shutter Island slowly reveals the layers of each character with the subtlety of a good novel, a feat that’s spectacular, considering the difficulty of adapting such a story.

The film begins when a lone ferry breaks through the mist shrouding the island. Two federally appointed marshals (DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) stand on the bow of the ship discussing their next case. An inmate at Shutter Island, Rachel Solando, has inexplicably gone missing, and the warden has called the marshals in to do a little detective work. Evidently, she disappeared into thin air through the walls of her room and escaped past the electric fences toward the craggy cliffs. Even though the island is swarming with guards, she has yet to be found. A torrential rainstorm also appears to be brewing.

Once he begins his investigative work, DiCaprio’s foil becomes none other than Ben Kingsley, who — in a welcome return to form — plays Dr. Cawley, the lead experimental psychologist who may or may not be playing mind games with the veteran federal marshal. As DiCaprio painstakingly sifts through clue after clue, enduring flashbacks from his own sordid past, one fact begins to crystallize: he isn’t getting off the island alive.

This is the point where most thrillers devolve into chase sequences, but Shutter Island doesn’t fold its hands so quickly. While halfway through the movie, it’s easy to start questioning the sanity and motives of nearly all the characters involved, you may find yourself still doing so at the three-quarters mark, as the film ends and after you walk out the theater doors.

I won’t give away the ending, although I will say that, thankfully, it does make sense. Plenty of recent horror thrillers have tried to come up with twist endings that are certainly shocking but are completely ridiculous. I will, however, remind moviegoers to pay attention to the last line uttered in the movie. It happens so fast that it may be easy to miss. In Shutter Island there may not be just one twist ending, but two.   

erik@vcreporter.com