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Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island is a genre film that doesn't necessarily confine itself to any one genre, least of all horror, which is what the trailers seem to be insistent on selling even though there isn't a scare to be found. Instead this is a modern day noir thriller wrapped up in a whodunit that gets better as it moves along, even though it seems to be trying too hard the entire time. Daunting music accompanies the opening title sequence and then never lets up to the point most of the atmospheric embellishments become their own cliche.

It's 1954 and Leonardo DiCaprio stars as U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels. Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) are making their way to the Ashecliffe mental hospital located on the ever-looming Shutter Island. It's on this island a patient has escaped and Teddy and Chuck are here to get to the bottom of things, and the deeper they look the more suspicious the situation becomes.

DiCaprio is, again, excellent in a role that demanded a subtle intensity or the film would have snapped and never recovered. Ruffalo, playing the role of sidekick, does just that. His performance never gets in the way and for the most part I assume Scorsese hopes we rarely notice he's there. Smart.

Impossible to ignore, though, is the devilish, "look at me" performance of Ben Kingsley playing the island's chief psychiatrist Dr. Cawley. There's something off about this guy, and Kingsley does everything he can to make sure when he's in a scene you know he's there. It's not a bad performance per se (and he does pull it together in the end), just an exaggerated one.

As much as there may be subtlety to DiCaprio's performance, Kingsley is where the audience will find blatant winks and nods, offering all the clues you'll need to solve the Shutter Island mystery. For the most part this is fine. The film isn't interesting enough otherwise and would have only served to upset the audience in the end had things been too concealed. In fact, the end is where Shutter Island deserves a pat on the back, with Michelle Williams deserving a lot of the praise. Williams is peppered throughout the film but really comes through late in the game.

Having read the Dennis Lehane novel of which Shutter Island is based, the end was my biggest concern walking into the theater. However, whereas the book delivers a gotcha moment that made me want to tear out the book's pages and burn them; the film assumes you are along for the ride and even if you aren't, attempts to do enough to soften the blow.

If anything, the biggest issue I suspect most people will have is the fact Shutter Island takes place in the real world, but makes up its own rules. While those rules can find basis in reality it may not be enough to convince detractors. When a film makes its own rules you either have to accept them or you can guarantee they are going to frustrate you, especially when the entire premise hinges on that acceptance.

In all fairness, having read the book the film was based on and having lowered expectations as a result, my opinion on the ending was certainly swayed by having prior knowledge of the events as they unfolded. However, Scorsese delivered a much better film than I expected, and along with Scorsese, much of the praise goes to the talented cast (certainly Jackie Earle Haley whom I have yet to mention) as this film relies heavily on its actors, and outside of my mild complaints about Kingsley, it is excellently played.

The musical choices bothered me and the film could have used a pacing pick-me-up as it got a bit redundant in the third act with needless exposition, but for the most part it had my attention. How the film will play to someone that isn't already in the know is something I can't answer, but I suspect it will be supported by the majority.
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