Guest review by Keith Rawson
When I found out Martin Scorsese was going to be directing the big screen version of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island a couple of years ago, I had my reservations. Scorsese’s film adaptations of novels have been spotty at best.
The Last Temptation of Christ
Yeah, it was okay, but, seriously, Scorsese’s then very gritty style of filmmaking didn’t blend well with a biblical epic.
The Age of Innocence
I just kept wanting Daniel Day Lewis to pull a gun on Michelle Pfieiffer and ask her repeatedly if she thought he was a funny guy?
Bringing Out the Dead
Hey, I appreciate a good Nic Cage freakout as much as the next guy, but Scorsese’s adaptation of Joe Connelly’s mildly hallucinogenic first novel seemed like a transition between Scorsese’s once grainy, voyeuristic filmmaking style-to-his current slick, ultra-stylized approach, and it was a transition where both the players and the plot were lost in the director’s identity crisis.
But with Shutter Island, Scorsese has broken his streak of meh.
The plot of Shutter Island focuses on US Marshal Teddy Daniels, (Leonardo Decaprio) who has come to Shutter Island—home to Ashecliffe hospital for the criminally insane—along with his new partner, Chuck Aule, (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the disappearance of one of the hospitals female patients, Rachel Solando, (Emily Mortimer) who has seemingly evaporated from her locked cell without a trace.
Of course, nothing at Ashecliffe is what it appears to be and neither is Daniels.
Daniels main motivations for taking on the hunt for Solando is to uncover rumors that the seemingly progressive mental hospital is actually a front for a secret CIA project to create sleeper soldiers and to hunt down and murder the pyromaniac janitor, Laeddis, (Elias Koteas) who set fire to Daniels former apartment building, killing Daniels wife.
As Daniels and his partner delve further into the investigation of the disappearance—and become stranded on the island due to a hurricane force storm—the staff of Ashecliffe seems to become more secretive and menacing; constantly throwing roadblocks up in the partners paths, as if they do not want Solando found out of fear she may reveal too many secrets about the hospital.
Now as far as suspense films are concerned, most filmmakers don’t have the slightest clue on how to maintain even the barest thread of anxiety and instead go for cheap pop out thrills which stun the audience for a couple of seconds, but then leave it feeling disappointed and asking, is that it? However, with Shutter Island, Scorsese keeps the level of tension high from the opening shot. The atmosphere is claustrophobic and as jittery as a kid with ADD hyped up on two pots of coffee and a Butterfinger.
As usual, the performances Scorsese evokes from his players is stunning, Dicaprio seems to emotionally render himself with each frame; Rachel Williams is eerie and spectral; Ben Kingsley, as usual, is a disconcerting—albeit strangely comforting—presence, and Von Sydow, Patricia Clarkson, and Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach from the Watchmen. Seriously, can this guy be any creepier?) add distinct levels of tension with their scenes.
The real star of Shutter Island, though, is Scorsese’s visuals. From the leaden, low hanging gray skies, to the environs of the institution, to Daniels flashbacks of Dakow and his fevered night terrors, Scorsese seems to be invoking both Alfred Hitchcock and Fellini and making their distinct cinematic styles his own.
In final verdict, Scorsese has never made a film like Shutter Island before and in the terms of his oeuvre it may very well rank right alongside Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas as one of his best.
Keith Rawson is a little known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert wastelands of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic three-year-old daughter. His stories have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Pulp Pusher, CrimeWav.com, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp and many others. He is a frequent contributor to BSCreview and along with Cameron Ashley and Liam Jose he edits and publishes Crimefactory magazine