There are two “light bulb” moments in Shutter Island, director Martin Scorsese’s psychological thriller. The first goes off early in the film where the viewer concludes the film they are watching is a complete bomb. The second illuminates in the final reel where the realization sets in that one’s just witnessed a minor masterpiece in the Scorsese canon, and a movie far superior to the best efforts of the majority of directors working today.
Though it may be hard to believe, Shutter Island careens dramatically from abysmal to genius in a couple of film reels, in what has to be the most astonishingly pleasant about face for a movie since light started being exposed to acetate. Based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone, Baby, Gone), Shutter Island tells the story of two US marshals, Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), who are sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient at the Shutter Island facility for the criminally insane, a fictional isolated island akin to Alcatraz, off Massachusetts.
Daniels' investigation slowly unveils that the facility is being used as a prototype “black ops” base whereby psychiatrists, building on Nazi experiments, are seeking to transform select patients into “Manchurian candidate” like killing machines. Yet all is not what it seems and that serves as both the Achilles heel and beautiful lynchpin underlying Shutter Island. No sooner does the story’s continual messing with the audience’s head begin to grow tiresome, than it suddenly transforms into a splendid revelation, integral to the overall composition of the film.
Peppered with acting firepower, even in its brief supporting roles with unsettling appearances by the likes of Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley, and Silence of the Lambs’ Ted Levine, Shutter Island fails to encroach upon the turf of such Scorsese masterworks as Raging Bull or Taxi Driver, but rather is more on par with The King of Comedy or his remake of Cape Fear for its directorial savvy and acting prowess. Superior to 2006’s The Departed, but short of Goodfellas, this is a slightly above middle-of-the-pack Scorsese film. Such is the body of Scorsese’s work that even his middling efforts come across as gems compared to much of what comes out of Hollywood these days.