Why trust us? We take expert advice, test, research and select products independently. If you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission read more.

Shutter Island (2010) Movie Review & Summary

Scorcese’s psychological slow burn thriller is not for the faint hearted as we are taken on this depressing and nihilistic journey through the eyes of Teddy Daniels.

Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island (2010)

Someone is missing

  • Genres: Mystery & thriller
  • Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Emily Mortimer & Mark Ruffalo
  • Director: Martin Scorsese


Shutter Island despite its criticism for being ostentatious and a slow burner is one of Martin Scorcese’s finest works as a director. This post World war setting with all of its dark and noir-esque themes leaves us with a fairly simplistic message at the end of the day; the mind itself is the real enemy of man. We are taken on a brilliant yet depressing ride which methodically foreshadows the true consequences and actions by the protagonist.


  • The dramatic set pieces
  • Genre bending drama
  • Respects the audiences’ intelligence


  • Some of the themes have little meaning by the end
  • An over- qualified cast with not much to do
Characters & Acting
Music & cinematography

The details


Shutter Island follows U.S Marshall Teddy Daniels as he’s summoned in to this mysterious and secluded mental hospital to track down the disappearance of a child murderer. It follows the journey of Teddy who’s accompanied by Chuck Aule (played by Mark Ruffalo) who plays the role of his partner.

This slow burner, which means that it gets better over time, further elucidates to Teddy’s worsening mental situation as we constantly cut back to his memories of his dead wife and the war he fought in. There is a very ominous and  melancholic tone that Scorcese tries to portray; often giving us a few pieces of the puzzle which all comes to fruition by the end of the third act. As we see the protagonist enter the island; the hospital staff and patients itself are somewhat as aloof and almost hiding back something. Ben Kingsley’s exudes menace and through his portrayal of Dr. John Crawley; the man with the most power in this deranged asylum who clearly has something to hide.


With the location of Shutter Island being secluded off the coast of Boston; we see the protagonist approach by ship having no idea what this insane asylum is going to hit him with. The brilliant set pieces that Martin Scorcese portrays exudes a sense of horror and intrigue; something that the director is not normally known for.

Through interviewing various of the inmates Teddy finds out that the hospital has been using cruel and inhumane processes to test psychiatric drugs on the patients and even lobotomize some of them. The search for the missing woman leads the detectives on a path which makes them question the validity of those running this Alcatraz-esque torture island.

The brilliant characterization of the character of Teddy is demonstrated by having him reflect on his own decisions after meeting one of the patients from the more dangerous parts of the island. This all culminates to a mind bending and somewhat damp ending which answers most of the uncertainties that the story through at us throughout the first two acts. This is not a detective movie by any angle; Scorcese simply uses the island as a device to put through his characters through a serious of harrowing events to reflect on their own faults.


The movie took off brilliantly with its opening intro focusing on the darker and post-war like themes. The script was adapted from the book off the same name written by Dennis Lehane. What was best about the script was the brilliant characterization of the island as a character itself. The screenplay further gave Scorcese the opportunity to showcase his brilliant directing and filmography through the ominous locations of the lighthouse and the uninhabited locations made for a very gripping story.

For the crux of it, we were as clueless as Leo’s Teddy Daniels. But by the time we got the big final reveal it was clear that the answers had been foreshadowed throughout. The truth about the island, Teddy’s constant visions and the game this almost prison like hospital is running all make sense by the end of it. By not using over expository dialogue and allowing the protagonist to take us with him as he embarked on this journey was very satisfying to see. The script was very well written and maintained a similar grim tone throughout which made the ending believable and fit in with whatever we saw.

Characters and actors

A film with a blockbuster star-cast; it was surprising how little there was for the actors. This was a story that was more focused on its environment and aura then it was character heavy. Therefore some had problems with the acting since a cast with features Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kingsley would have to deliver.

The characters though did not have that much to play around with. Leonardo DiCaprio’s role showcased trauma, depression as well as intrigue. He played a man burdened by his past who was in paranoia of everything and everyone slowly turning against him.

The character development and build up that we usually see him endure was not heavily focused on due to the requirement of the role. Supporting actors Mark Ruffalo and Ben Kinsley did do justice to their portrayals but their characters for the majority of the period were quite one dimensional. Kingsley, as always was spectacular as the menacing doctor of the island; but not much else can be said about the acting. The acting mainly facilitated the plot; but was by no means the defining point of the movie.

Music and cinematography

The film showcases some masterful directing by the legendary Martin Scorcese. The environment was so brilliantly used into the film which kept bringing into light the themes they were trying to portray. In his first entry into the horror/neo- noir genre; Scorcese successfully delivered us with a location that reminded us of something like an abandoned Gotham City that had faced the brink of extinction.

The cinematography and the script were further heightened by the brilliant score created by Robbie Robertson. Right from Teddy’s intro in the island, the music and the score added to the mystery of the location which wonderfully complemented the cinematography of Robert Richardson.

Final verdict

Shutter Island is a film for the ages; the brilliant characterisation of the protagonist breathing in the foul and mysterious location of the island is so harrowing to watch. If you are a fan of the neo noir genre and are prepared for a slow burner… and requires your patience and intellect to drive the story forward than you will thoroughly enjoy this masterpiece.

But fans of peak Martin Scorcese who live and breathe his gangster and crime thrillers with catchy dialogue and brilliant character depth may want to save their time to rewatch some of the classics like Taxi driver and Goodfellas. But if there is one thing we’ve learned from this movie; you can always rely on Scorcese to deliver you with nothing short of a masterpiece.

Become a member

Sign up for our newsletter to get exlusive new content and giveaways.

By continuing, you accept the privacy policy.
No spam. Unsubscribe any time!