I read Dennis Lehane’s riveting novel “Shutter Island” when it was first published back in 2003, and at the time I thought that it would make a fantastic movie if the filmmakers could resist tampering with the book as they so often do. Well, much to my surprise and pleasure, the movie moguls pretty much respected Lehane’s book by not distorting the story, and the result is a terrific mystery and thriller that keeps you guessing to the very end just as the novel did.
Under the stellar direction of Academy Award winner Martin Scorcese, “Shutter Island” opens as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), are aboard a boat bound for Shutter Island near Boston. The formidably eerie island is the home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane, and Teddy and Chuck have been sent to investigate the bizarre disappearance of a murderess from the hospital.
When the two men arrive on the island, they receive a rather cool reception from the security guards who inform them that they must surrender their guns and that they must adhere strictly to the rules set down by Dr. Crawley (Ben Kingsley), the institution’s head honcho. Although Crawley seems cooperative enough on the surface, he has an air about him that both Teddy and Chuck find a bit unnerving. Of course, the entire place is both strange and foreboding, and the two investigators are understandably a bit uncomfortable.
Shortly after Teddy and Chuck examine the room from which the woman escaped, they learn that a hurricane is approaching the island, and when it hits, it cuts off all communication with the mainland. If this isn’t bad enough, the storm also enables more inmates to get out of their rooms, creating a virtual nightmare for everyone on the island.
As Teddy continues his investigation, he’s disappointed to learn that the hospital will not grant him access to certain vital documents, and he also is shocked to discover that some of the methods employed by the doctors at the hospital border on the barbaric. The fact that Teddy has some serious mental issues resulting from the time he spent in World War II exacerbates the fears that arise as the result of his discoveries in the hospital, and it isn’t long until he wishes he had never heard of Ashecliffe.
From the time you first lay eyes on Shutter Island with its craggy cliffs, the ominous buildings of Ashecliffe, and the eerily imposing lighthouse guarding the landscape, you will be inexorably drawn into this haunting psychological thriller. The island’s appearance is at once mysterious and frightening, and it is such a magnificent setting that it actually becomes a character in the film. Don’t be surprised if you have difficulty getting the picture of the place out of your mind long after you have left the theater. You may even find yourself dreaming about it!
Now I must admit that I have never been a big DiCaprio fan, and I thought he was totally obnoxious in “Titanic,” but after seeing him in such recent films as “The Departed” and “Revolutionary Road,” I’ve done a 180 and come to really admire him as an actor. And he is nothing short of brilliant in this film. Every emotion he conveys (He runs the complete gamut.) is totally believable. This difficult and demanding role really gives him the opportunity to display his gifts as an actor, and he definitely makes the most of it. In the film’s production notes, DiCaprio explained what he liked about the part.
“A lot of things about this character appealed to me. Teddy comes to Shutter Island devoted to solving a mystery and to uncover what is really going on, but he has his own innermost agenda and secrets. He’s in a situation where there’s a lot more to his journey than there first appears to be. One of the great things about the story is that it’s constantly jarring you. It works on so many different levels; it’s like a giant layer cake. I fell in love with the complexity of Teddy, with his search for the truth, which triggers something in him, and also triggered something in me. I was profoundly moved at the end.”
Complementing DiCaprio’s stellar work in his movie are outstanding performances by Academy Award winner Kingsley, Ruffalo, and Academy Award nominees Michelle Williams, Max Von Sydow, and Patricia Clarkson.
“Shutter Island” (Give it a solid 9.) blew me away. It grabbed me from the very beginning and didn’t let go until its shocking conclusion. The film is filled with mystery, tension, suspense, and surprises. It’s a prime example of what good filmmaking should be, and it is a real treat for everyone who loves an intricate mystery. Jump aboard for an excursion to Shutter Island. And be prepared to shudder!