The pulpy, twisty thrills of Shutter Island may seem a far cry from Martin Scorsese's typical filmography of gangster dramas and gritty epics like The Irishman, Goodfellas and Raging Bull, but remember this is the man who directed a wild Cape Fear remake in 1991. The source material is from Dennis Lehane, the crime author who wrote "Mystic River" and "Gone, Baby, Gone," and whose works have been successfully adapted for the silver screen. Set on an island in Boston Harbor, Shutter Island sees Leonardo DiCaprio tracking an escaped patient at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. Some of the twists and turns here become obvious, particularly upon repeat viewings, but that allows further appreciation for the intricate production design, superb performances and ferocious editing by longtime Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker. Shutter Island is Scorsese at his B-movie best.
U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) and partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) take the ferry to Ashecliffe to determine what happened to patient Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), a woman who murdered her three children and who has disappeared from her room without a trace. On the island, Daniels meets prickly lead psychiatrist Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and the elder Dr. Jeremiah Naehring (Max von Sydow), neither of whom are forthcoming with the records Daniels seeks in his investigation. Daniels threatens to return to Boston without cooperation, but his bluff is called when a hurricane prevents the ferry from returning him to the mainland. Over the next hours, Daniels ventures across the island on his own and encounters arsonist George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley), who reveals further secrets about possible human experimentation going on at Ashecliffe. As Daniels ventures further into the uneasy passages of the asylum, his own mental state begins to deteriorate thanks to powerful memories of his dead wife (Michelle Williams) and service in World War II.
Much of Shutter Island's success hangs on its dreary, mysterious mood and interesting visuals. Cinematographer Robert Richardson cloaks the island in fog and mist, and only lifts the veil when Scorsese requires viewers encounter a startling burst or color and violence. There are many parallels throughout the film; Daniels encounters the German doctor Naehring, who claims he legally emigrated to the U.S., and graphically recalls the Nazis who killed themselves as American troops arrived to liberate Dachau concentration camp. Visions of Daniels' deceased wife, Dolores, are crippling, and the film slowly reveals that Daniels at one time had three children and a loving wife before extreme tragedy torched his happy reality. Much of the film also toys with the ideas of the unreliable narrator, mental fortitude and character duplicity. There are certainly forces who do not want Daniels and Aule on the island, though not necessarily for reasons that are initially apparent.
It is difficult to nail down exactly what kind of film Shutter Island wants to be. The novel reads more like a detective story with powerful ruminations on grief and loss, while the film is simultaneously a pulpy noir, thriller and affecting drama, with occasional elements of horror. The mood is uneasy and unsettled throughout, and Scorsese keeps viewers on their toes with frequent, abrupt scene changes throughout the 139-minute running time. Powerful is the film's spotlight on what atrocities humans are willing to commit against one another. The film also reveals the troubling reality of how mental patients were treated during its 1954 setting. Shutter Island is a bit unwieldy and certainly not as refined as some of Scorsese's top-tier work, but it is thoroughly entertaining. The performances from DiCaprio and Kingsley, the cinematography, and the film's overall unsettling mood are highlights in this master filmmaker's B-movie.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Paramount releases Shutter Island on UHD with a 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10. Shot on 35mm, 65mm and digital, Shutter Island was finished at 2K and upscaled for this 4K release. This 4K release is a moderate improvement over the strong Blu-ray image from previous releases. Fine-object detail is abundant; intimate facial features, fabric textures and set dressings are highly visible. Wide shots are generally crisp and clean, exhibiting strong depth of field. Check out the shots when DiCaprio and Ruffalo ride from the ferry to the hospital for an impressive example of depth of field. Noticeably improved here from HD are black levels, which are absolutely inky. Shadow detail is also impressive, when Scorsese allows it. Check out DiCaprio and Haley's conversation inside a dimly lit cell block for an example. Colors and contrast are impressive, and the HDR pass allows moments of bold, startling color even more impact. While most of the film plays in shadow and fog, these flashbacks and visions offer gorgeous, wild color and atmosphere. A light layer of grain is appropriately resolved, and the film looks good in motion. Some of the photography here lends itself to softer shots, a couple of which offer a drop in resolution, and I noticed some minor aliasing in backgrounds. Overall, though, this is a nice 4K presentation.
The Blu-ray's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack returns here, and this mix is quite immersive and effective. Dialogue is crystal clear, whether delivered from the center or surround channels, and is balanced appropriately with effects and score. I noticed no issues with distortion or crowding. Ambient effects like rain and wind, which are frequent, make use of the surrounds and totally immerse viewers in the environment. Action effects and soundtrack stingers surround the viewer, too, and the track makes effective use of the LFE. The film's non-traditional soundtrack, which is comprised of previously released musical selections, is given appropriate weight and perfect balance. A host of 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs and subtitle options are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This 10th Anniversary Edition arrives in a striking red Steelbook with interior artwork. Included are the 4K Ultra HD disc and the previously available Blu-ray, which includes extras Behind the Shutters (17:10/HD) and Into the Lighthouse (21:11/HD).
Martin Scorsese's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel is a thoroughly entertaining, disorienting, pulpy, B-movie thrill ride with excellent performances from Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley that is all the more attractive in this 4K Ultra HD release with Steelbook packaging. Highly Recommended.