Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Trending On Empire
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer
The Farewell To Middle-earth Issue
Review Of The Year 2014
Subscribe: Get 12 Issues For £25
Buy the perfect Christmas present this year
Farewell To Middle-earth
Full details of our Peter Jackson-edited issue
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

Leonardo DiCaprio
Mark Ruffalo
Ben Kingsley
Emily Mortimer
Michelle Williams
Max Von Sydow
Jackie Earle Haley.
Martin Scorsese.
Laeta Kalogridis.
Running Time
138 minutes

2 Star Empire Rating
Theory Of Everything, The
4 Star Empire Rating
Bringing Tibet Home
3 Star Empire Rating
4 Star Empire Rating
4 Star Empire Rating

5 Star Empire Rating
Le Jour Se Lève
5 Star Empire Rating
Tony Benn: Will And Testament
5 Star Empire Rating
5 Star Empire Rating
Babadook, The
5 Star Empire Rating

Shutter Island
The World’s Greatest Film Director™ has taken over the asylum….

submit to reddit

1954. US Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) travels to an offshore asylum for the criminally insane with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo). Daniels is supposedly investigating the mysterious disappearance of a murderess from her cell, but also wants to confront Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas), an imprisoned arsonist he believes was responsible for the death of his wife (Michelle Phillips). On the island, Daniels comes to believe senior psychologists Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Naehring (Max von Sydow) are involved in unethical experiments and a conspiracy to cover up the fate of Laeddis.

Shutter Island
Most directors who got their start with Roger Corman kicked off their careers with some sort of a horror film – Francis Coppola made Dementia 13, Peter Bogdanovich made Targets, Joe Dante made Piranha. Atypically, Martin Scorsese’s apprentice exploitation work was a gangster picture, Boxcar Bertha. Though Scorsese has often expressed admiration for movie fantasists from Michael Powell through Mario Bava to Hammer Films, he has made only two films with supernatural themes, both religious rather than horrific: the Devil, of course, appears in The Last Temptation of Christ, while benign reincarnation is central to Kundun. And yet, few filmmakers have expressed the nightmarish so well or so often, as demonstrated by such descents into madness or urban hell as Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, After Hours and Bringing Out the Dead.

Shutter Island, from the novel by Dennis Lehane, is the nearest thing to a horror film Scorsese has made since Cape Fear. Its story of criminal investigation turns in on itself as the detective hero suffers from contradictory flashbacks – which run to very nasty WWII experiences during the liberation of a concentration camp and a bad marriage which came to a gruesome end on the shore of what looks like Crystal Lake from the Friday the 13th films -- and drug-induced hallucinations. All this is footnoted by favourite moments from the school of fright founded by producer Val Lewton at RKO in the 1940s: a walk through a dark corridor of cages, as insane arms clutch at the protagonist, restages a classic shock scene from Mark Robson’s Bedlam, which Scorsese once thought of remaking, while a disturbingly unsafe spiral staircase is a dead ringer for the one in Robert Wise’s The Haunting.

Though the US Marshals played by Leonardo DiCaprio (now as central to Scorsese’s filmic universe as De Niro or Keitel) and Mark Ruffalo sport film noir hats and tough guy attitudes, they are forced to surrender their guns before they are allowed to enter an insane asylum which is also a haunted castle – passing out of a hardboiled mystery into a full-on gothic melodrama which includes a creepy turn from genre fixture Max von Sydow as the sort of shrink who reminds the hero of his bad experiences with Nazis, an Agatha Christie-style locked room mystery, a sinister lighthouse which doubtless harbours dreadful secrets and a spectacular thunderstorm out of The Old Dark House or King Lear. Ben Kingsley plays the eccentric head of the asylum, a character type we’ve learned not to trust since Dr Caligari, and brings some welcome, sly humour to his barbed chats with the hero, especially when he seems to be scheming to cover up unethical experiments or lamenting the damage done to his beloved car.

Officially the best filmmaker in the world, Scorsese enjoys himself here in a way he hasn’t since Cape Fear: there is depth to the story, but not quite enough to sustain all the mysterioso effects. Lehane’s novel has one of those tricky plots which keeps pulling the rug out from under hero (and the reader) – it would even count as a spoiler to give away which parts Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer and Jackie Earle Haley play, and several everything-you-assume-is-wrong moments are set up by some scrupulously fair clue-dropping (the key to one puzzle is in the synopsis – so start thinking: you’ll need a pen and paper to work it all out). A possible problem with this is that, on one level, the film you think you’re watching for the first hour or so might be more satisfying than the one eventually delivered when all the answers are given – though Scorsese adds a tiny final ambiguity that restores a little of the magic.

DiCaprio delivers a startling prettyboy-to-tough nut makeover – but he has to play it close to his chest here for the storyline to play out. Once you get past the trickery, Shutter Island offers sumptuous, enthralling, shivery gothic filmmaking with a hardboiled heart and a sly line in asylum humour. If a pot is being boiled, at least it’s an intricately-decorated pot on a spectacular fire.

Reviewed by Kim Newman

Related Reviews

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for Shutter Island
Empire Star Rating

Another Scorsese Classic

Is this better than "The Departed"? I'd say so. Heres hoping that it isn't forgotten during awards season and earns Scorsese and DiCaprio some recognition. Truly Brilliant. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PaulJohn at 08:06, 05 October 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Incredible Film

An enjoyable psychological thriller, though wasnt what i expected. dicaprio is indeed excellent as the u.s marshell(he's finally starting to look older than 15!) as is the rest of the cast. liked the little cameo's as well. the twist's are good but you prob will see a few of them coming. It seems a weird choice of film for scorsese and im not sure if he pulled it off? least he tried something diffrent. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Frank Castle at 12:26, 29 September 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Incredible Film

In Martin Scorsese’s latest thriller, two US Marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are sent to a mental institution for the criminally insane to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a female patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer), who apparently drowned all her children. As their investigation furthers, Daniels becomes suspicious of the lead psychiatrist, John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and begins to think that he and his partner were just lured there to ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by McGeesJabberwock at 17:22, 26 September 2010 | Report This Post

Incredible Film

The acting is superb, the direction is magic, the production values are smart and the script is believable. The film itself is a monumental accomplishment, with one of the best Fincher-esque twists in a bloody long time. Watch it now. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 17:32, 21 September 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Shutter Island

L: demoncleaner   Cinema Heaven Name one Master Director. Name one that will choose to take on a plot-heavy script. Name one. Plot and Master Director are anathema toward one another. Bergman does Da Vinci Code? Kubrick does Platoon? Scorsese is absolutely fearless. A Master without ego; without vanity. Scorsese can take on an "Aviator"...nursed by a no-mark straining hard-on of seriousness like Michael Mannn. Mr Scorsese wil... More

Posted by kathleenp980 at 02:30, 13 September 2010 | Report This Post


Good film. Was a bit bored seeing as I'd read the book first but it was very well made.Still reckon the plot was far fetched. As if is all I'm saying... ... More

Posted by The REAL Bozz at 19:00, 12 September 2010 | Report This Post


Well said Bob,i like that reviewto say i agree with everything you're saying!Leo may or may not have been nuts-he may have been the only sane person in the film. It's an interesting premise to believe that there was no actual island,but i cannot agree with it. Though i could be wrong! A fantastic film! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BOHEMIANBOB at 17:21, 12 September 2010 | Report This Post


(Spoilers) Teriffic film. Like Deamoncleaner said: This is genius in being tongue-in-cheek-whilst-being-serious-enough to entertain. Scorsese knows his source material is superb pulp. But he treats it in a way that Hitchcock treated Bloch's Psycho: with the utmost respect! It's is a superb B movie/thriller, made by a filmmaker who knows everything about cinema. Now freed from having to win an oscar, he completely delves in to this. And has fun. People shouting: "I saw the twis... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BobM70 at 12:32, 12 September 2010 | Report This Post


When I first heared of this film, I though it was a horror, Shutter Island, it sounds like one. But when it started it looked like a detective film, which I've never really watched, so I stuck around to find out what happens. The script does very like at dropping little hints that don't make sense to keep the viewer watching. Finally it drops into psychological triller. The ending completely throw me, a brillent film that keeps all it's secrets until the end. All the cast, particularly Leonardo... More

Posted by white mage at 17:36, 06 September 2010 | Report This Post


L: Sway Haha, how on earth could you watch it by accident? sp; It's like that time I went on holiday by accidentMy housemate put it on and I was only supposed to watch 10 minutes.  But it just flows in a very amenable manner, which is really amazing for a plot mired in head-messing. ... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 12:55, 31 August 2010 | Report This Post


L: demoncleaner L: Sway L: demoncleaner eleted....I just got a bit silly after a while ] his, following on from your previous posts, just made me burst out laughing. /quote] Ah, the verbal joyride of drunken posting; my most dogged internet vice. od I can look back on this torrent of consciousness and regret it all… until the next time. I watched Shutter Island twice again last week. Once was by accident.  That's four times now.  I still love it but I... More

Posted by Sway at 12:22, 31 August 2010 | Report This Post


L: Sway L: demoncleaner eleted....I just got a bit silly after a while ] his, following on from your previous posts, just made me burst out laughing. /quote]   Ah, the verbal joyride of drunken posting; my most dogged internet vice. od I can look back on this torrent of consciousness and regret it all… until the next time. I watched Shutter Island twice again last week. Once was by accident.  That’s four times now.  I still love it but I’m a bit Shutter... More

Posted by demoncleaner at 11:26, 31 August 2010 | Report This Post


L: demoncleaner eleted....I just got a bit silly after a while ] his, following on from your previous posts, just made me burst out laughing. ... More

Posted by Sway at 01:58, 31 August 2010 | Report This Post


Watched this for the 2nd time, and it's an even better experience in my view, you can appreciate the performances of Ruffalo and Kingsley more this time with a lot of looks between the characters going unnoticed first time around. And imho, this also contains Di Caprio's best performance to date. Add to that, it looks great and I love the ominous soundtrack too. ... More

Posted by tftrman at 12:06, 23 August 2010 | Report This Post


A three star film, enjoyable in many parts but altogether lacking something i can't quite put my finger on. Leo was good as was Ruffalo but as others have said the ending was obvious miles before the third act. I understand that's not all the film was about but it was distracting when trying to engage in certain characters. Not one of his best but certainly not a bad film. ... More

Posted by TheSpleen at 16:19, 22 August 2010 | Report This Post

huge Scorsese fan, loved this but admittedly not as engrossing as The Departed ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by plum bob at 23:59, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post

huge Scorsese fan, loved this but admittedly not as engrossing as The Departed ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by plum bob at 23:59, 17 August 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Imperfect but solid and moving

Watched for the first time today, not a huge Scorsese fan but I thought it was excellent. Yes the twist is predictable, but it's about so much more. Watching the extras on the BluRay really highlights the amazing performances (everyone in it is giving 2 performances at the same time, really), can't wait to watch it again and see it all in place. DiCaprio is coming into his own now, superb performance. The scenes during the reveal were exceptional. ... More

Posted by UTB at 00:04, 08 August 2010 | Report This Post

RE: Imperfect but solid and moving

This worked far better as a pulpy page turning novel than as a film. The pedigree of the filmmakers, the quality of the production and the performances are way above what this deserved. It is a tacky and cheap story - and the film, once you know the twist, as I did, just falls from your eyes and induces snores. Not Marty's finest hour, but there's been few of those recently. ... More

Posted by gooner_no1 at 22:30, 06 August 2010 | Report This Post

Imperfect but solid and moving

This movie has some fantastic direction, some great acting and well presented themes. However it is let down by having Mark Ruffalo, who seems to be the king of trees in this. Also, unlike the films it's riffing on it has a very high reliance on dialogue for tension in some parts. B+ ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by davelogan at 12:07, 05 August 2010 | Report This Post

a question

who exactly announced Scorsese as best director in the world? I do like a few of his films but I've also seen some unpleasant turds pinched off by the man. He's very good at what he does but the best? No, that he is not. I watched Shutter Island a few nights back and it looks great as is often the case with a Scorsese film but it remains a standard, by the numbers thriller. So much so that even though it's only been a few days since I viewed it, I really can't think of any scenes or plot twists ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Geosolus at 15:20, 04 August 2010 | Report This Post


delete ... More

Posted by hatebox at 23:25, 03 August 2010 | Report This Post


I agree with Kim Newman on this one( I'm not sorry for slagging him off regarding the Predators review though) ,started out ok but then became very predictable and disappointing in the end, some nice camera shots but what happened to the old Scorsese? His last 4 films have been a right let down! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Gram Woods at 15:54, 31 July 2010 | Report This Post

A Good Head-Twister.

Shutter Island is one head-twisting film, it will keep you going right to the very end though it finishes a little disappointing. But there are some great pefomances from a good well known cast, some stunning scenery, tense moments and a twist you wouldn't see coming. One to check out without doubt. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 09:39, 11 July 2010 | Report This Post


Just finished watching this and it was fantastic. Everything you would want in a thriller- by turns scary, a whodunit and a bit of headf**k, provided you immerse yourself in it. All these people with their "its predictable" it ain't frankly, because the story can go many ways right up until the last 10-15 mins if you allow it. I can imagine them now arms crossed, stoic "it'll be like blah, blah."As soon as it was done I watched it again just to check over the details I may ha... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by boostergold at 23:17, 10 July 2010 | Report This Post

Previous pageMore user comments


Get the best seat in the house by subscribing to the world's biggest movie magazine today. Save up to 69% and every month you'll get exclusive subscriber-only covers, access to the biggest stars and the best news, reviews and behind-the-scenes reports straight from the set. Click here to find the perfect offer for you

Empire's Three Favourite Scenes Of 2014
A hat-trick of moneyshots from the last 12 months

The 32 Funniest Movie Moments Of The Year
2014's side-splittingest scenes

The 10 Best Games Of The Year
2014's top pixel-pushers duke it out for the number one slot

Dan Stevens: The Breakout Star Of 2014
We congratulate The Guest star on his year to remember

The 15 Most Memorable Character Deaths Of The Year
2014’s RIP honour roll

Watch: Night At The Museum's Cast Share Their Favourite Robin Williams Performance
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Ben Kingsley pay tribute to the actor

Watch: Jack O'Connell And Luke Treadaway Talk Unbroken
On POWs, panto and how to name your bomber

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Only £25!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 12 issues of Empire for just £25!
Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)