Monday, March 1, 2010

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's latest feature is the psychological thriller Shutter Island, based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Set in 1954, the story focuses on Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall dispatched to investigate the disappearance of a female patient from the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Ashecliffe is a secretive and heavily protected institution, located on the Boston Harbor land-mass of Shutter Island. His partner for this assignment is fellow U.S. Marshall Chuck Aule. What the two detectives encounter on this mission is a locked-room mystery, and what may be a much larger conspiracy.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels, a detective haunted by the death of his wife and prone to nightmares of his traumatic WWII service. His rookie partner is played by Mark Ruffalo. The two actors ably portray the strained camaraderie of these characters. Sir Ben Kingsley is perfectly cast as the Hospital's chief psychiatrist. The most surprising performance for me was that of English actress Emily Mortimer, who goes toe-to-toe with DiCaprio in a key scene.

Shutter Island is an unsettling film, and not solely because of its preoccupations with Cold War paranoia and shifting identities. The scenes in Ashecliffe's Ward C are akin to a descent into hell; ghoulish faces behind the bars, groans and cries in the darkness. The Hospital interiors are darkly beautiful, and the filmmakers make good use of Boston Harbor's turbulent weather system. (The art direction is flawlessly handled by Dante Ferretti, as is always the case in a Scorsese picture.)

Author Dennis Lehane worked as a writer on the superb television drama The Wire (along with fellow novelists George Pelecanos and Richard Price). In 2003, his novel Mystic River was adapted for the big screen by Clint Eastwood. The film was critically lauded, garnering Oscar wins for Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. Lehane is in the enviable position of having had his work adapted by two of the world's preeminent directors: Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese. Lehane's latest work is The Given Day, a sprawling historical novel that would make a remarkable film.