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movies / February 21, 2010
By Eileen Jones


On Shutter Island, there’s a lighthouse where patients are supposedly taken to be lobotomized. The movie has about thirty-five shots of this lighthouse against a gloomy sky, so many that you begin to wonder if director Martin Scorsese has had a personal experience with lobotomy himself in recent years. Why else would he shoot such a boring stupid movie so boringly and stupidly? Jeez, what the hell happened to Martin Scorsese? What kind of doofus drive took possession of him sometime after Goodfellas, compelling him to make more and more of these overblown oldey timey studio pictures that squelch his awesome talent? You know the ones I mean—Age of Innocence, Kundun, The Aviator, all the big bloated respectable Oscar-bait films that will never matter to anyone in twenty years because Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas will still go on Scorsese’s tombstone, and rightly so.

Shutter Island’s another bloated one, maybe the most obese yet. It doesn’t even have snooty origins, like an Edith Wharton novel, to justify its Hindenberg heft. It’s a straightforward genre potboiler that Scorsese and pals have inexplicably pumped full of hot air and showy production values. A bunch of great actors turn up in secondary roles, each one doing a hammy monologue, making the film play like a hellaciously expensive actors’ workshop. But at least it breaks up the monotony when you can periodically think, “Oh, hey, it’s Michelle Williams…Ben Kingsley…Max von Sydow…Jackie Earle Haley…Ted Levine…Patricia Clarkson…”


If you’ve seen the previews, which have been running for about two years because the film’s release date kept getting pushed back—fair warning!—you know exactly what you’re getting into. Take the preview and run it over in your head nine million times, and that’s the film. No value added. Two cops (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) show up to investigate a missing person case at an insane asylum on an island that’s so laughably weird and sinister and Gothic they start right away investigating What’s Really Going On Here. The lead cop (DiCaprio) is having nightmares and paranoid hallucinations while he’s investigating the sinister shenanigans, leading you to wonder if he’s being driven insane so he’ll stop investigating and join the inmates. Or if this is simply an old genre favorite, the one where the true nut is the protagonist and it turns out to be All In His Head.

There’s some additional plot hooey about war trauma that gives Scorsese the chance to trot out rote WWII Nazi killing and concentration camp horrors. These only serve to remind us, again, how great Inglourious Basterds really was.

But if you like things big and loud and overly emphatic, you might get a kick out of Dante Ferretti’s super-ominous production design, and the ear-pounding, madness-inducing score. To complete the effect, there really should’ve been a narrator intoning, “It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out!”

DiCaprio and Ruffalo knock themselves out playing 1950s cops, all beefy and angry in their wide-shouldered suits. DiCaprio smokes cigarettes with such manic commitment he splays out his fingers as if they’d been sprained.


It’s hard not to blame DiCaprio for whatever happened to Scorsese, since their director-star collaboration roughly coincided with Scorsese’s hideous decline. Remember Gangs of New York? Lordy! The horrors of miscasting started right there. It’s not that DiCaprio’s a bad actor, he’s just the wrong actor for Scorsese. He’s too soft and slack, a neurotic metrosexual type. Scorsese keeps shoving him into material he can’t pull off. There’s a scene in Shutter Island in which Ted Levine’s character tells DiCaprio that he’s essentially a violent animal, which is awkward, because DiCaprio doesn’t convey any sense of menace whatsoever. Levine, on the other hand, is a fine violent actor, always projecting the lurking impulse to kill, even in comedy.

How could Scorsese go from DeNiro and Keitel in their prime, to DiCaprio? What happened to Martin Scorsese? Has Scorsese taken a trip to the lighthouse? Did somebody tell him that he too could be an Oscar-winning studio hack if he’d just let somebody cut a hole in his brain?



Add your own

  • 1. Molly  |  February 21st, 2010 at 3:16 am

    great review. I wholeheartedly agree. This movie was made for the Oscars. Self-indulgent excess of the worst kind!

    I like Leo. But these are not interesting roles for him. This is a show off role. This was a very silly movie for all the wrong reasons. I can’t believe how many people are defending it even after admitting they looked at their watch 3 times. Why? Because it’s Scorcese? Had it been anyone else, this would have been lauged away. People are sheep. Bah.

  • 2. Jane DiMattep  |  February 21st, 2010 at 8:04 am

    Maybe that’s the point of using DiCaprio. Not everyone who’s violent looks violent. In fact, for every Charles Manson, there’s a Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy — guys you’d never expect to hurt so much as a fly. Kind of what made “Psycho” work so well. (“Psycho” didn’t get great reviews when it was originally released.) What makes Pesci’s character in “Goodfellas” scary is because you know he’s a loose cannon and you’re not sure what he’s going to do next. Characters like DiCaprio’s in “Shutter Island,” unnerve us because we don’t expect someone with almost angelic looks to be so violent or crazy — yet they are.

  • 3. Mike  |  February 21st, 2010 at 8:59 am

    I also wonder why Scorcese keeps casting DiCaprio? I thought he was pretty good in Gangs of New York but not good enough to be Scorcese’s favorite actor these days.

    Having Dicaprio on board does make financing the films Scorcese wants to make easier, but he pays for it on the screen with an actor who is frequently out of his league.

    I hope they can redeem themselves with the adaptation of “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt”. Amazing book, hope they don’t ruin it.

  • 4. JoJoJo  |  February 21st, 2010 at 9:39 am

    My gut feeling is that Scorsese was always bullshit and had essentially gotten lucky by working with DeNiro and the other old timers who have a natural brilliance and good instinct. DiCaprio is a very “what you put in you get out kinda guy,” an acting robot kinda like Reeves but with a better operating system than poor ol’ Keanu. You’re not witnessing the decline of Scorsese just the bloated visual metaphors swinging at your head like a drunken Italian swinging a sack of door knobs that was always there but not masked by the quality of the people working for him.

  • 5. PleaseFire Eileen  |  February 21st, 2010 at 10:09 am

    This is a horrible review. Eileen needs a new line of work

  • 6. Shutter Sucks  |  February 21st, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Stupidest movie that I have seen. I agree that Scorsese may have been lobotomized together with Dicaprio. If only I can sue them to refund the money and time we wasted for such a boring and depressing film. Scorsese wanted to crack the heads of the viewers. Some of the viewers in the theater were I watched started to leave in the middle part of the movie. Truly, a time consuming, money wasting movie of all time. It’s like Paranormal Activity. Too much hype, no sense at all!

  • 7. thomzas  |  February 21st, 2010 at 10:35 am

    I don’t buy this “Scorsese decline” stuff.

    All the movie brats have been hit and miss throughout their careers. I’ll take The Departed over The Color of Money, After Hours and New York, New York, and I don’t LOVE The Departed.

    Coppola’s talent is AWOL, Friedkin is over, Bogdanovich burnt out, Altman resting in piece – Scorsese is just making sure he doesn’t die making the kind of films old directors end up making… See Schlesinger – The Next Big Thing!, Peckinpah – Osterman Weekend!

  • 8. niccolo and donkey  |  February 21st, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Eileen is correct in pinpointing Scorsese’s decline with his adoption of the constantly miscast DiCaprio as his new special pet. Marty has gotten decadent without the fun usually associated with it and his films have become dull, paint by numbers affairs that suffer from gross mediocrity made all the worse when compared to his earlier work.

  • 9. Flatulissimo  |  February 21st, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    I was looking forward to seeing this. Since Jones gave a glowing review to Sherlock Holmes, and trashed this, I am definitely going to check it out. It might actually be good!

  • 10. 16 Shells from a 30.06  |  February 21st, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    It’s a good movie.

    Women are just so fucking mean in February.

    If the was a summer release, Eileen’ld be gushing over how old Martin can still bring it, and how the use of the subliminal phallus represented by the lighthouse was superb

    …or something.

    It’s nothing springtime won’t fix

  • 11. radii  |  February 21st, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    right-on Eileen … DiCaprio is a character actor and Scorsese and others keep casting him in these leading-man roles … I mean my sister can kick his ass, so why is he playing a real man?

  • 12. Stephen Cook  |  February 21st, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    The film is essentially a noir version of Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese. With dead children. Because Dennis Lehane can’t write anything without dead children. For a good film that takes place in an insane man’s head, your best bet is David Cronenberg’s Spider.

  • 13. Alex G.  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 12:28 am

    I don’t think it’s just women who are mean Shells from above. Maybe it’s adults. After all, it seems the majority of people who think this is a great movie that really ‘plays’ with their head are…kids, teens. Or an otherwise demographic that have not seen FAR SUPERIOR films that Shutter Island’s premise is derivative of…ala A BEAUTIFUL MIND. Mark Ruffalo’s character is a direct rip off of that movie.

    Let’s pretend this movie was not made with ‘Leo’, ‘Scorsese’, or any one of the A list actors that jumped on board (why wouldn’t they)?

    The ONLY saving grace of this film is the beautiful cinematography. The film is gorgeous looking. But we have Oliver Stone’s guy – Robert Richardson to thank for that. Not Scorsese.

    But THAT is not good enough. The movie as a whole fails miserably. The story SUCKS. It is contrived, forced into a faux puzzle that is insulting to people with an IQ over 100 and really quite boring.

    It is sad that this movie is getting this kind of pass, when there are so many other well-deserving movies that get torn to pieces for much lesser faults than a bad story. Without story, you have NOTHING.

  • 14. Connors  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 6:02 am

    Shutter Island is terrible. Good review. I wanted to like it, but it just sucks.

    However, you didn’t mention The Departed. A very good Scorsese movie, with a great performance by DiCaprio.

  • 15. David  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I actually liked this movie. “Dante Ferretti’s super-ominous production design, and the ear-pounding, madness-inducing score.” reminded me of something from a Kubrick movie.

    Besides, the cinematography was great. The story was a bit simplistic, but realizing what’s really going on comes late enough in the movie that we can focus on DiCaprio’s character.

  • 16. Destro  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Scorsese could turn actor formerly known as Markie Mark into a new DeNiro – if he feels like making a street crime movie again. Markie Mark was actually pretty good in Departed.

  • 17. Rob  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Gangs of New York

  • 18. Pádraig Ó Buth Chanain  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    @7: Oh, the Ostermann Weekend wasn’t so bad — compared to The Killer Elite… and oh, God! I’ve just remembered Convoy!

  • 19. 16 Shells from a 30.06  |  February 23rd, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    We want to perch on Scorsese’s head!

    Do YouTube embeds work here?

  • 20. Fatty Arbuckle  |  February 24th, 2010 at 7:31 am

    How cum nobody talks about my movies no more?

  • 21. TheTim  |  February 24th, 2010 at 9:39 am

    You really think this movie was Oscar material? Perhaps the way the movie industry is going, and the fact that audiences are becoming stupider, then yes, it may have that kind of pull.

    The story was contrived, but if you’re seeing a “Hollywood Blockbuster” you’re getting that anyway. Expecting anything else is ridiculous and unfair to criticize the formulaic nature of said blockbusters.

    It’s a suspensful psychological thriller without the suspense. Audiences are so slow on the uptake, accepting any Hollywood drivel nowadays, that they need to be given the breadcrumbs to follow along. Scorcese does this well with this film. There are a number of scenes where this is quite obvious, as if the director is telling you “You’re too stupid to follow the rest of this if you don’t pay attention now.”

    The story isn’t what I had a problem with, or the acting or directing…It was the EDITING. It looks like something they were trying to cram out to theatres for 20009 and just missed the deadline. Some shots were HORRIBLE (like how does someone drink from a glass without actually holding it?). There’s no way I can see this movie winning an Oscar, basing this on the editing ALONE.

  • 22. John  |  February 25th, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Review is dead solid perfect. A movie for those who want to watch a director directing instead of a well made film and tight story telling. All loud annoying music, stylish darkness and shadows and no coherent plot.

    A guy spends two years there and doesn’t recognize anyone? The docs try to “cure” someone of thinking they are a US Marshall so he realizes he is a really a psycho mental patient? WHY? Baby face Leo DiCaprio does not look like a guy who liberated concentration camps and killed his wife.

  • 23. Jay Doyle  |  February 27th, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I’m no movie critic but it did remind me of the mk ultra experiments of the fifties and sixties, the paranoia of that era, and the fact that many who volunteered to participate in these experiments lost sight of reality and were, in fact, left with their minds less than intact. Not true of all. I was asked to participate in one experiment involving alchol and declined but a friend of mine who did accept was fine…not true, however, of many who volunteered for mind altering experiments. When thought of this way the movie becomes much like the Castellanos altered reality…and the psychiatrists become what they were back in that era and what they are now when they participate in state sanctified torture. But this may very well be how I see the movie and not very relevant to what it is actually about at all. all.

  • 24. John  |  March 17th, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    You may dislike Shutter Island because you completely misunderstood the plot. Ask yourself a few questions: (1) why is the lighthouse in the beginning of the movie not the same lighthouse that ‘Teddy’ eventually enters at the end? (2) doesn’t the guard tell him in the beginning that the lighthouse is a sewage treatment plant, yet we see no such equipment at the end? (3) why does ‘Teddy’ hand over his gun at the beginning of the movie without a holster and at the end it is in a holster? (4) the psychiatrist points out to ‘Teddy’ that all the key names are anagrams as evidence of his insanity, but isn’t it true all those names were provided to Teddy? (5) If ‘Teddy’ is simply insane, the holocaust subtext makes no sense – but if you understand ‘Teddy’ is completely sane and is being experimented on by expatriated Nazi doctors at an isolated US prison hospital, the holocaust references (and character archetypes) have a lot more meaning. Maybe if you watch the movie again and understand how you completely missed the true plot, you might have a better appreciation for the movie.

  • 25. badnewswade  |  March 24th, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Crap. Shutter Island is BRILL!

  • 26. Jane  |  June 5th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I watched it for 20 minutes and stopped. I read the whole plot just to check if I’m not by any chance missing something. EVERY thriller since Psycho has the same plot – the main character is a split personality. There is a De Niro like that, a Bruce Willis one, a Jim Carrey one, some women as well, is there no other plot available? This is a low for Scorcese. But ok, a fun thriller. If at least it were that! What really pissed me off is all the Dachau crap. Such unnecessary, undignified and gratuitous use of real trauma. It’s a rock around the film’s neck that sinks it to the bottom, and the final straw that pissed me off into not watching till the end. I knew it when I read the nytimes review in which the guy practically apologized to Scorcese, whom he adores, for having to say it’s a terrible film.

  • 27. Jane  |  June 5th, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve just come to realize I’ve misspelled Scorsese’s name. Sorry.

  • 28. mel  |  June 12th, 2010 at 12:59 am

    YAWN. Thank god for pay per view. Borrrrrrrrrrrrring. Doc’s subscribe this instead of sleeping pills

  • 29. mel  |  June 12th, 2010 at 1:03 am

    People, you’re over analyzing. It’s a horrible movie. Are any of you over the age of 27? Everything past the 30/40’s is a remake anyway. Seen “Bride Came C.o.d.? How about seven days six nights? Get rid of the cliques and go back to pre cold war days of film.

  • 30. Jamie  |  July 13th, 2010 at 2:30 am

    I thought this was a poor review. I watched it for a second time last night and enjoyed it as much as I did the first time, if not more.

    Honestly I cannot understand some of the criticisms on here. Great movie, great score, (fairly) well acted, good thriller storyline, good twist (perhaps predictable, but carried out beautifully).

    Definitely as one questioning the nature of sanity and reality at the end, especially with the ambiguous ending. 8/10

  • 31. Matti  |  July 13th, 2010 at 9:26 am

    OMG poor Scorsese if he gets to read this.. but hey sorry dude, ur movie was boredom at its climax! i wasted 2$ on it and i managed to bare it 30 minutes though!! 30 minutes of MY FK’N TIME Martin!! 30!!

  • 32. jos  |  October 5th, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    there s something weird that i saw in the movie.the lady that they interview,the one that ask for a glass of water to DiCaprio s partner to have a chance to write on the lil note book the word RUN when she drinks the water, she takes the glass with her left hand empty s it put s it the glass back on the table with her right hand 1st when she drinks threre s no glass in her hand and 2nd there is still water in the glas..weird scene……..

  • 33. greg normandy  |  October 27th, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    to all of you who came to this board flaming the movie or the critic.. i am your therapist… you are in a false world… you have failed the test.

  • 34. Bester  |  December 2nd, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Moody film with a neonoir atmosphere and Lynch elements. Ok, so it’s slow… – ever saw the 60’s movies?

    Anyway, I loved it. I don’t see what’s there not to like.

  • 35. tamzin  |  December 16th, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    I agree with the review: a pretentious, heavy handed convoluted mish-mash of classic horror motifs, ruining a potentially good story. Hope I don’t wake with a horse’s head beside me but c’mon Scorcese it was a shock to see a director of this calibre laying it on so thick -from the ear-bashing soundtrack to the number of unoriginal scare factors, this movie wasted its talent and doesn’t rate as a winner. The only saving grace was the visual appeal: a great set, excellent period costumes.

  • 36. Bontifoli  |  July 22nd, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    I think that 8 out of 10 people posting comments on here (including Miss Eileen Jones herself) didn’t even understand the movie. List some movies to come out in the past couple years better than this…Can’t think of many off the top of my head. This actually IS a brilliant movie. READ John’s comment…#24. 95% of the people who watched this movie don’t understand what it’s about/don’t understand the plot

  • 37. Ryan  |  October 9th, 2011 at 1:25 am

    Wow whoever wrote this is SO WONDERFUL

  • 38. Tom  |  August 26th, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Okay. So you are dissing the movie because you couldnt make sense of it. Watch it over and you will realize everything comes together and happens for a reason. The Marshall giving Leo a cig at the beginning? Yeah tht has a reason. Everything does and it’s an unheralded masterpiece. So once you can have thr intellectual capacity to discover how the movie actually works maybe you will be able to write a proper review.

  • 39. Anonymous  |  March 23rd, 2015 at 5:32 pm

    “These only serve to remind us, again, how great Inglourious Basterds really was.”

    Yeah, this critic was lobotomized.

  • 40. Tv Food and Drink  |  June 21st, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    You’re crazy to tear down Kundun, The Age of Innocence and The Aviator. The first two you considered Oscar bait? You understand very little. Just because the ad campaign wanted potential audiences to think they were “important.” They were passion projects, difficult to tell via film, nearly impossible to market. The only American filmmaker at the time who could have tackled them and succeeded was Scorsese. They were gorgeous, fully developed, and far beyond the reach of a traditional Oscar voter, and probably the average American film maker. The Aviator was just plain enjoyable. Whether the three of them are re-evaluated by popular eyes in the future is irrelevant. He’s leaving blueprints for future filmmakers on how to tell ANY kind of story beautifully with film techniques. Shutter Island is a complete failure though. On that, I agree with you. So much potential, and it’s just so talky, clunky, predictable and far-fetched. How’s the book? Actually, I’m gonna bet you haven’t read it.

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