It's 1954, and up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston's Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital. He's been pushing for an assignment on the island for personal reasons, but before long he wonders whether he hasn't been brought there as part of a twisted plot by hospital doctors whose radical treatments range from unethical to illegal to downright sinister. Teddy's shrewd investigating skills soon provide a promising lead, but the hospital refuses him access to records he suspects would break the case wide open. As a hurricane cuts off communication with the mainland, more dangerous criminals "escape" in the confusion, and the puzzling, improbable clues multiply, Teddy begins to doubt everything - his memory, his partner, even his own sanity. Written by
All it Takes is One Line of Dialogue to Make an Impact...
There is one line of dialogue, right at the end of Shutter Island before the credits roll, that elevates the emotion of the film and makes it much more powerful. For those of you, like me, who read and enjoyed the novel before seeing the film and felt that the trailers and advertisements for this film were leading you to believe there wouldn't be any narrative surprises in store, think again! Scorsese's film features that one brief piece of dialogue at the films conclusion that results in an entirely different perception of the final act. The rest of the film, however, is very faithful to Dennis Lehane's already great story.
Shutter Island represents exactly what one should hope for when seeing a novel being interpreted to film. While it certainly does the source material justice, it also adds small changes that make for a distinctive experience. Even if you've read the novel multiple times, you'll feel like you're reading the book for the first time again while watching. Scorsese perfectly recreates the menacing atmosphere of the island on film. Every location is foreboding and drenched with hints of unseen danger in dark corners. The lighthouse, the caves, the civil war fort housing "the most dangerous patients," and the island itself--every locale seems large yet claustrophobic and isolated at the same time.
I often experience claustrophobia myself and there are certain films that really capitalize on that personal fear and make it more relevant and eerie to me. Neil Marshall's The Descent was one such picture, and this is another. An confined island is a terrific horror location and it comes with its own type of fear. The utter desperation to escape from a persistent and confined nightmare is something Teddy (Dicaprio) is receiving in high doses, and so does the audience.
As with Scorsese and DiCaprio's previous collaborations, this is a movie that must be seen. Here they explore the horror/thriller genre with gravitas, with no small part played by Laeta Kalogridis in supplying the screenplay. While most modern pictures of its kind lack character or any real sense of suspense, Shutter Island doesn't go for cheap gags. I concur with Ebert when he says one of the key elements to this film is that it releases its tension through suspense instead of mindless action sequences. That's not to knock a well-deserved frenetic scene of violence every once in awhile--it works to the advantage of some films like Evil Dead II and Planet Terror--but had Teddy and Chuck gone running and gunning through the facility's faculty, the mood this movie keeps in check so well would have been lost.
However, that mood isn't sacrificed and "spooky" is punched up to full force. A considerable amount of that spooky is generated by a "best of" collection of actors that have mastered the art of creepy: Ben Kingsley, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, and Max Von Sydow just to name a few. Had Tom Noonan been thrown in the cast as well, my "Top Five People I Would Not Want to Be Left in the Dark with, Especially in a Room with No Doors or Windows" list would have been completely exhausted. On that note, is it just me or has Sydow mysteriously not aged since The Exorcist? Was there a secret pact made between Lucifer and Father Merrin? Whether he sold his soul or not, he's quite ominous in every single scene he is present in. All of this great talent in front of the camera doesn't mean anything though if you don't have a faithful orchestrator behind it. Luckily you have Scorsese leading the lens and he points the movie in the right direction, even if this isn't among his very best works. His style works amazingly with suspense laden projects and at times he even seems to channel Hitchcock and Kubrick, though there's always something distinctively Scorsese about the presentation. I found the editing in the opening scene, with Chuck and Teddy approaching Shutter Island, to be very odd and frantic, though I think the audience will know why Scorsese displayed the scene the way he did after completing the film.
With a body of work so impressive, Shutter Island is among captivating company. The good news is that Shutter Island carves out a place of its own in his resume. While no Goodfellas or Raging Bull or Taxi Driver, I have no problem placing Shutter side by side The Last Temptation of Christ and Bringing Out the Dead. The cinematography is bright and gorgeous. Scorsese doesn't rely on the over-grainy, ugly presentation that most modern horror or suspense-riddled thrillers rely on. He uses lush, bright color during daytime and dream sequences to flush out a distinct feeling of terror.
Shutter Island isn't just a pretty face, its also got a great story to boot and this is why I've been anticipating the film for so long. As mentioned earlier, I've been exposed and digested the source material myself before seeing the movie. I was worried the trailers for the film were giving away too much through their spots on television and on the silver screen, but Scorsese has added enough to the film for the story to feel fresh even for those "in the know." You are transferred in the films paranoia and phobia once the camera pans through the mental facilities open doors. Lehane is one of the luckiest authors on the planet to have his work adapted to the big screen by talents such as Eastwood and Scorsese, but his work is brilliant and deserving of such treatment.
At the risk of spoiling plot points for potential viewers who have not read the book, I'll leave a Related Recommendations section concealed in "Spoiler" tags. Discussing this story at any length can be quite revealing.
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