Friday, February 19, 2010

Shutter Island

This morning I saw Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley.

The year is 1954 and Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is sent to investigate a disappearance at a mental hospital off the shores of Boston called Shutter Island. He is accompanied by his nonchalant partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) who strangely calls him "Boss" though they've only just met.

The backdrop of a messy storm sets the mood for their arrival, as the seasick Daniels accepts aspirin from hospital staff to combat his queasy feelings. Soon he's feeling up to interrogation and requests interviews with all personnel on duty the night of the missing patient's disappearance. He is met with resistance (and even sarcasm) from many as he asks basic questions to solve the mystery.

One of the most passive aggressive road blocks on his journey is Dr. Cawley (Kingsley), a powerful psychiatrist who seems to be hiding something.

When Teddy and Chuck can't get to the answers they're looking for, they decide to leave the island the following morning, but the violent weather stops them, so they continue exploring the institution on their own, against the wishes of the staff.

Throughout their search, Teddy is haunted by visions of his deceased wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) and reveals he has ties to the institution due to her murder. He also seems to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, having flashbacks from assisting in the liberation of Nazi-occupied Germany.

The entire film is Teddy's journey to find the truth in whatever context the film is referring to during that specific beat. It's at times all over the place and alternately solid and linear.

Scorsese creates a fantastic creepy mood from the opening credits and sustains that quiet unrest right up until the end. The images (especially of Nazi Germany) are sometimes horrific; other times just bloody (though I'll have to admit a scene full of squeaking rats takes the cake for most-likely-to-cause-nightmares).

The characters are all crafted well--each has something unique to hide, yet it's hard to know who to trust.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who is in nearly every frame of the film, plays every emotion with sincerity; from the angry and arrogant Federal Marshall to the fragile, grieving widow. The expression in his face carries us from scene to scene, guiding our reactions and filling us with whatever feelings he's meant to experience.

The ending provides a hot conversation topic for anyone who likes to challenge such resolution, and provides a satisfactory conclusion for those who prefer closure.

Really, Shutter Island is the very definition of a successful psychological thriller. It will keep you guessing hours after you leave the theater...that is, if you want to keep guessing.

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