Shutter Island

Shutter Island – Amended August 14th, 2010

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Laeta Kalogridis (screenplay) Dennis Lehane (novel, also wrote Mystic River)
Genre: American psychological thriller film
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow,
Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson

Shutter Island is yet another example of a film where concept and plot overshadow character development and story.  Even with a call sheet of top actors, this bloated budget and excessively long film is all surface and hat-tricks; impossibly nonchalant about a premise that is in and of itself too conceited to realize that surprise endings aren’t surprising any more.  By the time we arrive anywhere near interesting, the conclusion startles too little too late; perhaps if as much attention to plot devices were paid to believable and interesting performances one might concede Shutter Island to be slightly more interesting than the sum of its parts.

Miss this one even if you feel yourself compelled otherwise.

Amended – August 14th, 2010

After careful consideration, or careless depending on if you’re a half glass full or kinda empty person, I’m amending my original review of this film.  I know this film has settled into a spot on the proverbial movie rental store shelf, or in some vast cacophonous warehouse at Netflix waiting for some guy with a Walkman, er, Ipod and headphones to stroll by and pop it in the ‘rented’ basket, but a few further thoughts are in order before I let this one go.

Thanks to Rodney at Fernby Films for sparking the renewed interested and further thoughts.  I felt obliged to add a couple of things regarding additional proof that Mr. Scorsese has indeed, very much lost his touch.  I’d even be willing to suggest that he hasn’t made a brilliant film since Casino in 1995, though I will admit The Departed was the best of the last fifteen years.  To be frank, Frank (Jack Nicholson) elevated this film beyond the sum of its parts and welled deserved the handful of awards he won for his performance.  I know Scorsese has replaced Di Niro with DiCaprio as his go-to actor of choice, but I’ve lost my interest and patience in DiCaprio’s fluoride treatment of acting. You know fluoride, the stuff ‘they’ used to add to your drinking water, before they were stopped, the stuff that prevents decay.  It’s the main ingredient in toothpaste.  You know, that stuff that will kill you if you swallow it?

That being said, my chief complaint with Shutter Island aside from the plot, surface-tooling development of character, and the dark-for-dark sake approach to the cinematography, is the call sheet.  I have a difficult time recalling when I’ve seen a movie where so many talented actors were utterly wasted plot-props.  The list is as long as my arm; Mark Ruffalo, who has yet to rekindle a notable early career, is a venerable everyman with good looks and vulnerability, something you like and can’t quite express at the same time – lost in his lines as much as the shoddy suit he wore through the movie.  And Sir Ben Kingsley – there is something wrong in the movie universe when you relegate a talent like Mr. Kingsley to a sputtering mad-scientist with his very own dark and dim castle to perform experiments of the mind in.  Adding insult to injury of epic proportions is to cast Max Von Sydow as a befuddled accomplice in a crime no one bothered to share with him – Sydow, might I remind you, is an ever the capable veteran of the screen who has been working longer than DiCaprio has been alive.  And if that weren’t bad enough, you cast the lost, misplaced Michelle Williams who may have been entertaining on Dawson’s Creek but has hardly measured up on the big screen with mediocre, forgettable performances.  And just in case you were wondering, the tortured indie darling, Wendy and Lucy did not sit well with me either.  Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson were equally employed with lackluster attention and serve hardly more than backup performers on a stage already glutted with too many people.  And the final straw, the lasting and final ingredient to this disastrous recipe, was the nearly unrecognizable Elias Koteas who, playing the monster to DiCaprio’s Frankenstein, was never given enough screen time to contribute in any meaningful way to the story.

If the abuse and misuse of such talented actors were not enough for you to steer clear of Shutter Island, you might consider the tag line warning enough “Someone is missing”. Dare I say it was the director?

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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15 Responses to Shutter Island

  1. Tricia says:


    Thanks for the feedback on my blog, very much appreciated! Yours is very professional looking, and I must agree with your review of Shutter Island. 🙂


    • rorydean says:

      Hi Tricia,

      You’re very welcome. As I continue to network and develop Above the Line, I realize part of the journey is meeting and connecting with people from literally all over the world. The one constant I’ve found is enthusiasm for movies and a desire to read practical advice that is often overlooked in the mainstream in order to deliver quantity at the cost of quality. I take my time with every review, consult other critics and resource sites like and and deliver what I feel is an engaging, entertaining review.


  2. shanegenziuk says:

    Good call on this one Rory. I enjoyed the individual performances on this one, such as with Dicaprio and Kingsley. As in most cases they were a pleasure to watch this time also, but that alone could not help a confused and convoluted story.

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I’m impressed by the depth of movie knowledge you have, and look forward to reading more.


    • rorydean says:

      Hi Shane,

      Thanks. I went in wanting to like it if for no other reason than Scorsese was at the helm, but sadly I had a bad feeling when the opening sequence took what, seven minutes to get inside the hospital? I just keep feeling like concept movies forget to address the believable acting quotient, like big names are enough these days to fill the seats so why spend all that unnecessary effort getting the actors out of their own skin. What I’ve been looking for is a film that disassembles the big star, jars them from their million-dollar-a-picture throne and forces them into the uncomfortable psychological and emotional reservoirs they’ve lost touch with. DiCaprio was stunning in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, equally so in Basketball Diaries. Ben Kingsley was captivating in Sexy Beast, Gandhi, and if you haven’t seen him in House of Sand & Fog, you should very very soon. I understand the need to step out from under the weight and baggage that comes from serious drama, sure, who wouldn’t need a break after say the performance Nick Cage delivered in Leaving Las Vegas. Films like that will surely take a toll. But the problem these days seems to be once an actor leaves the disquieting, flea infested motel of from-the-gut acting, they never return to it until maybe much later when their star starts to dim.


  3. Rodney says:

    I haven’t seen Shutter Island yet (although am due to do so in the next week or so) but this review leaves me a little concerned about watching it. I enjoy a lot of Scorcese’s earlier works, especially the criminally underrated Bring Out Your Dead (which, upon reflection, isn’t so “early”) but of late I’ve felt his films to be out of touch with the average cinemagoer. Gangs Of New York was probably fine for anyone who lives in the USA, but for the rest of Planet Earth wasn’t so spectacular, and I think the same can be said for the gluttonous DiCaprio-love-fest, The Aviator. The Departed ranks as a genuine contender for Scorcese’s most approachable work in decades, but even then is somewhat turgid and melancholy in its execution.
    A few people I know have praised this film to the rooftops, so I’m definitely going to watch it, but I’m not more than ever prepared for disappointment.

    • rorydean says:

      Hi Rodney,

      I’ve been wanting to get back to Shutter Island and write a proper review but haven’t made the time yet. As far as whether or not to see them film, considering you’re a movie person, you almost have to. O.K. fine, I’m going to pour myself a cup of much needed java and write up the review. Let me just respond to your thoughts here, I can’t agree with you on Bringing Out The Dead. I actually just re-screened it a couple of weeks, maybe a month or so ago, wanting to like it in spite of Nicolas Cage (that’s an entirely separate review – which, btw I’m going to start soon – reviews or rather essays on actors, their work, choices, etc.,) and of course with Scorsese at the helm. I’ve seen everything Scorsese’s done, many multiple times, and to be honest I just haven’t seen much that compares to his early films. Don’t get me wrong, the style is, his trademark cinematic style, but he’s simply lost the edge that made him an industry.

      In a nutshell, Shutter Island plays like an M. Night Shymalan film, gotcha ending and all, and while I like M. Night overall, he too has worn thin the stock use of the surprise ending. The problem with sticking around too long with a formula is your audience begins to see ‘everything’ coming and by the time we get to the gotcha, well, it’s not so surprising any more. I can’t agree more with you, “his films to be out of touch with the average cinemagoer” – it’s sadly apparent he has probably reached and exceeded his peak. Unlike Polanski, with his latest film Ghost Writer a must see!

      I personally dislike Gangs of New York with a passion. Again, another review I must get to. Aviator left me smashed in the side of snowy mountain with thoughts of whether or not to eat my copilot while his lifeless body was still warm.

      I think The Departed is probably Scorsese’s best film since Casino, but I must revisit Kundun before I commit to that statement.

      As far as the praise of Shutter, yes, others have tried to get me to see their view, sadly, I cannot.

      Stay tuned, literally!

  4. Joe Huber says:

    Hi Rory,

    I’m a fellow movie reviewer/news columnist over @ I like your site a lot and your writing style. I didn’t care for Shutter Island, as much as I love Scorsese films it just didn’t entertain me. Nice to see you mention Casino, a very underrated film that only pales in popularity because it came after Goodfellas. Loved both films! Got it (Casino) on Blu-ray for my birthday yesterday. Keep up the great work and I’ll see ya here and over at Movie-Vault!

    • rorydean says:

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for dropping by and your thoughts! I’m looking forward to writing for MV – have you been there long? I kept wanting to like Shutter Island, several people I know strongly suggested it and given Scorsese at the help. Yeah, Casino just came out too close to Good Fellas, same faces, people overlooked it. Happy belated birthday – Always nice to get movies for your birthday, at them to the library.


  5. Rodney says:

    LOL, not sure if I should be chuffed at the mention for provoking you to think more about this film, or upset that it gave you time to stick it to Scorcese a little more!!

    Okay, seriously, great article once more. I aim to check out Shutter Island next week while the wife’s out and about, so I’ll get back to you with my thoughts!!

    • rorydean says:

      Haha! I think every film requires time to take in, even those we dislike. Case in point, Children of Men. I don’t know how you feel about that one but I remember loathing it when I saw it in the theater the first time. Fortunately a friend pushed me to give it a second go after a couple of months had gone by and it was available at the rental house. I screened it a second time and became a fan, not just liking it, but doing a complete 180!

      Do let me know what you think of Shutter Island.

      • Rodney says:

        Just to give you something to read, here’s my thoughts on Children Of Men.

      • rorydean says:

        Hi Rodney,
        So obviously thanks for sharing the review and by now you’ve seen I left a reply on your site. I started to watch Children of Men again last night, didn’t get through it but that didn’t have anything to do with the movie. I did remember one of the things that really annoyed me about the film when I saw it the first time – the unnecessarily shaky camera. There just isn’t EVER any excuse for it – not even for emotional or psychological reasons that so many filmmakers make. And there were moments where I asked myself – why is this happening, what is this taking place (such as the little room with newspapers all over the windows where Clive Owen is taken the first time, abducted so he can meet his wife.

        But such is life, still a solid film worth screening->

  6. Rodney says:

    Okay, I gave Shutter Island a watch last night, along with the wonderfully irreverant Kick-Ass, and I have to say, I agree with many of your comment here Rory, re this film.
    The casting on Shutter Island reads like a lip-smacking smorgasbord of talent: and it’s completely wasted, as you mention. Max von Sydow, an actor I always have time for, appears in a handful of scenes that have almost no coherent value to the plot beyond stretching the time out over 2 hours. Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen’s Rorscach) does okay with his little screen time as a prisoner on Shutter Island, George Noyce, someone who has a catalysing effect on DiCaprio’s turn as Teddy, but for somebody with the calibre of performance as Haley, I was dissapointed we couldn’t get more of him. I agree with you on Emily Mortimer, Rory, she is a great actress and was criminally underutilised: her plot exposition scene could have come straight out of The Incredibles Book Of Film Cliches, and I would have loved to see more.
    If I can disagree with anything of the above review, it’s the inclusion of Ben Kingsley as the island’s chief psychiatrist, John Cawley. I thought he did a pretty good job, the “behind the eyes” madness and sense of justified nobility he had in the final act of the film was chilling.
    But the film overall left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I came away disappointed, much like many of Scorcese’s films in the last decade (save The Departed) haven’t resonated with me that well. Take me back to the Goodfella’s and Casino days, for sure.
    I have much to think about before I write up my own review on this film, but I think your points above are valid, Rory. Well done.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Rodney-> I have to say we’re probably going to bump heads about Kick-Ass, a film I tried on two separate occasions to get through. I’ve read what others have said about it, how it was this and that, but for me I felt like the entire idea that ‘this guy how no real super powers’ was precisely the reason why I thought to myself, so why should I care? I just couldn’t care less about the characters, which for me, is the end of the story. I assume you’ll review it so I’ll check back in when you do.

      I’ll give you Kingsley, only because he truly is one of my favorite actors. As I mentioned, he was captivating as Gandhi, brilliantly subdued in House of Sand and Fog, and at the top of his game in Sexy Beast.

  7. Pingback: Blue Valentine (2010) | Above the Line

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