How I Learned To Stop Hating and Love Leo: Andy Burns On Shutter Island


This weekend I checked out Shutter Island, the new Martin Scorsese/Leonardo DiCaprio film that topped the box office. There was lots of talk that the film was pushed from its original October release date because it wasn’t up to snuff, and if you read the Toronto Star’s 1 1/2 star review, you might think the same. But after watching Shutter Island and finding myself totally immersed in it, I’d have to argue that the speculation was wrong.

I walked into Shutter Island with some pretty clear biases, mind you. Well, maybe just one. I think I don’t like Leonardo DiCaprio. I’ve felt this was for over a decade now, ever since The Beach, where he delivered such a hackneyed, Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now wannabee performance, I felt the horror myself. However, I have watched subsequent DiCaprio performances, in Scorsese flicks Gangs Of New York and The Departed and enjoyed them all. So while I try to convince myself I don’t like Leo,  maybe it’s that I don’t enjoy him unless he’s working with Martin Scorsese (the only exception to that rule being his stellar performance in Revolutionary Road).

Based on the book by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island features DiCaprio as Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels, who along with his partner (Mark Ruffalo) is sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient at a hospital for the criminally insane on an island. Shutter Island. During his investigation, Daniels, a former World War II soldier, uncovers nefarious goings on with a staff (including Max Von Sydow and Ben Kingsley) who don’t necessarily seem to want the Marshall’s help.

Not having read the book, I entered Shutter Island thinking I was getting a horror flick or ghost story, which it only partially is. Mainly, the film is a psychological thriller, with some bits of conspiracy theory thrown in as well. Even though the movie didn’t meet my initial expectations, I was pretty well captivated during its nearly 2 1/2 hour run time. The acting was solid from all the principles (DiCaprio, Kingley, and the understated Ruffalo are the standouts), and there are some great cameo performances from Patricia Clarkson and Canadian Elias Koteas as well (who at this point is almost a dead ringer for Law & Order: SVU’s Christopher Meloni, or is it the other way around?).

One aspect of Shutter Island that initially had me wary was the score. In the first five minutes of the film, as Daniels arrives on the island and driven up to the hospital, the music is short bursts of ominous orchestral chords, as if it was trying to tell us just how frightening this place was. It was a little over the top for my tastes and I was worried that I’d be hearing it over the course of the film. Thankfully, while those chords do reappear during the film, it’s never in that overpowering way again.

Ultimately, though it wasn’t the ghost story I thought it would be, I thought the story of Shutter Island delivered the goods. There were a few moments that came across as predictable, but overall I was surprised by the twists and turns that the film took, and how it all played out. Shutter Island also left me thinking I should really rethink my anti-Leo stance.

That being said, I think I’ll avoid any Growing Pains reruns.

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