Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) opened today. A creepy, dark (not to mention windy and rainy) adaptation of an exceptionally good novel, the 2+ hour faithful rendering will be a surprising movie to those who have not read the book but might be underwhelming to those who have.
Oscar-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond, The Departed) plays U. S. Marshal Teddy Daniels who, along with his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo, Collateral), are called upon to investigate the disappearance of a female patient at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane located on Shutter Island. Shrouded in mystery and located some 12 miles from the Massachusetts coast, Ashecliffe houses the most violent of society’s criminals. Experimental treatment means that chemical lobotomies are not given first choice, rather genuine reform is attempted before psycho-pharmacological solutions are advanced.
The investigation would seem straightforward enough, except that the patient escaped from a 8×12 room having a single, barred window with the door locked from the outside. After escaping she managed to walk past seven orderlies playing cards in the break room before leaving the building.
Daniels and Aule begin their investigation immediately upon landing on Shutter Island, but find the doctors, nurses and orderlies less than cooperative. Individual questioning of the psychiatrists get almost nowhere and questioning of staff in a group results in more answers with attitude than answers that advance the investigation. Questioning of the inmates proves fruitless after a near flip-out by Daniels and a cryptic message from one murderess.
Set in a former Civil War fort, dorms and housing, the Ashecliffe complex is almost breathtaking, while the grounds, manicured by the inmates, are spotless. Escape from the institution is foolproof. Until a hurricane hits, that is.
Taking advantage of fractured walls and downed power lines, Daniels and Aule use the distractions to enter the locked down area of the campus, Ward C, where the most irredeemable criminals are located. It’s in Ward C that Daniels hopes to find the person that is the focus of his “off the books” investigation: the man who set the fire in which his own wife died.
Much of the story is told in nightmares as Daniels repeatedly sees the murdered children of the escaped woman whom he hunts. He also combats visions of both his wife and her murderer which, combined with stifling migraines, almost render him unable to run the investigation effectively.
The movie has a significant number of twists and turns and does have a mind-bending conclusion.
Still, I feel Shutter Island is a good movie, not a great one. The first half hour has editing that can only be described as jittery. At one point, DiCaprio swallows a couple of aspirin with some water, but the scene is cut too quickly, only to reveal him in a different position with the glass apparently gone. Another oddity is the film’s score. No music at all in some places where it might have helped the mood or the tone, heavy handed in other places and ham-fisted in a few places. Near the beginning is a benign scene of a car driving a few yards to approach a gate. It seems the score is trying to create a feeling of foreboding, but it has the effect of making the viewer wonder if a meteorite is about to hit.
Having skimmed some other reviews, I find myself somewhat in the minority. Roeper, Ebert and Rolling Stone are all quoted as duly impressed on the shutterisland.com site; I was not as impressed. (SI currently rates only 69% on Rotten Tomatoes-significantly less than stellar.) Though it has been several years since I read the book, I still felt it was far superior. However, when the plot twists are known in advance, it might just take away from the movie watching experience.
Rated R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity, Shutter Island also stars Michelle Williams as Daniel’s wife, Dolores, Ben Kingsley, Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow and Emily Mortimer. Viewer be warned that the movie does have a scene of full male nudity. Although played in a decidedly non-sexual way and shot in shadow, genitals are clearly visible.
Shutter Island in paperback and in graphic novel can be purchased from Amazon.com below. You pay the same low price and support martyduren.com.