Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island (2010) – A book-to-screen adaptation will always suffer under the weight of expectation. I’ve voraciously devoured about eight of Dennis Lehane’s books now, Shutter Island included. I like the way that the man spins a mystery and I usually end up crushed by his usual downer endings. I love that not only has Hollywood found him, but the cream of the crop seems to have targeted his works for adaptation. Hell, the man was even hired as a writer for The Wire, regarded by many (yours truly included) to be the greatest television series ever produced. As far as cinema goes, Lehane was first adapted by Clint Eastwood whose film of Mystic River went on to capture a couple of Academy Awards. Actor Ben Affleck made his incredible directorial debut out of Gone Baby Gone, the fourth of Lehane’s Kenzie-Gennaro mysteries (and I do hope stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan reprise those roles in further adaptations). For Shutter Island, no less a prodigious elder statesman of cinema than Martin Scorsese took a swing at a Lehane adaptation.

Shutter Island has a great old-fashioned mystery thriller premise set in 1954. Teddy Daniels (frequent Scorsese collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio) is a United States Marshall working with new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the disappearance of a patient named Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer) from the Ashecliffe Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane on the titular island off the coast of Massachusetts. They are greeted cordially by the staff including head of psychiatry Dr. John Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley) and Deputy Warden McPherson (John Carrol Lynch) and somewhat less cordially by Dr. Jeremiah Naehring (Max von Sydow) and the Warden (Ted Levine). Teddy and Chuck are being lied to, but they’re not sure about what. Further complicating matters is Teddy’s hunt for a patient named Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas), the man responsible for the detah of Teddy’s wide (Michelle Williams). The top-notch cast is further rounded out by Jackie Earle Haley and Patricia Clarkson, who each give very memorable one-scene performances.

Scorsese actually looks to pulp films of the 1950s as a sort of stylistic inspiration for the film. The over-dramatic ominous music in the films intro is played at deafening levels. This is not a subtly-made film. I think that bothered me a bit the first time out, but I was more accepting this time around. Other people have been less-than-enthusiastic about some of the plot’s turns over the course of the film. I say they’re kind of missing the strength of the film, which is character. It’s one of those films where knowing the ending heightens your appreciation (if not necessarily your enjoyment). I also like the ambiguity of the ending. Just what does Teddy know at the end? It has some pretty dark implications. I’m sure a lot of people don’t like this movie, but I just can’t join them. I know a lot of people WON’T like this movie, but I’ll still recommend it. I still think Shutter Island falls short of “classic Scorsese” like Goodfellas or Taxi Driver or even of his latest film, Hugo (in which the enthusiastic celebration of cinema won over my oft-cynical heart). Scorsese is always interesting though, and his throwback approach to the work of an absorbing writer is most certainly worth checking out.

ORIGINAL FACEBOOK MINIREVIEW (written when the movie was still in theaters)

This isn’t classic Scorsese but even middle-of-the-road Scorsese stands tall above other film-makers.  I’d put Shutter Island as being above middle-of-the-road anyway.  So this is one of those movie that they say you should see twice, but since I read the book, seeing the movie was like seeing it a second time.  You see all the little pieces that come together in the end.  Of course if you merely mention that a movie HAS a twist ending then everyone immediately tries to figure it out and M. Night Shyamalan has so hardwired moviegoers to look for twists that a lot of people can figure it out from the trailer.  “Oh so [insert twist here] happens.  I don’t need to see it.”  What these people who are so convinced of their own cleverness fail to realize is that an ending is only part of a movie and how you get there is far more important.  The cast of this movie is uniformly excellent.  I enjoy the story and all its turns but I doubt everyone will.  There is a bit of a tonal problem with the movie.  At times the tone of the movie is as disjointed as the mental patients in the hospital the film is set at.  There are times when it goes for suspense, drama, horror, conspiracy etc.  These elements are all integral to the movie and can be pulled off but in the film they don’t quite go together smoothly.  Overall I liked it.  If you have read the Dennis Lehane novel, it is an excellent and faithful adaptation and as I said exceptionally cast.  If you haven’t read the book well then I imagine you’d enjoy the movie with fresh eyes.  But it’s not really one of those movie for everyone but if you like mysteries or Martin Scorsese, check it out.

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