D: Martin Scorsese. W: Laeta Kalogridis. DP: Robert Richardson Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio/Mark Ruffalo/Ben Kingsley/Samantha Morton/Patricia Clarkson/Michelle Williams/Jackie Earle Haley/Ted Levine/John Carroll Lynch/Max von Sydow. (NOTE: Based on the 2003 Dennis Lehane novel of the same name).
Dennis Lehane’s third novel to be adapted for the screen, Shutter Island (he also wrote novels Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone) opened over the weekend to tremendous anticipation. In the fall Paramount Studios pushed the release to February, although trailers were already out sporting an October 2009 release date. Not only did this hype up the film, but result in a career best opening for both director Martin Scorsese and actor Leonardo DiCaprio (take that Titanic!).
DiCaprio clearly enjoys himself here, and with Shutter Island being his third collaboration with Scorsese who can blame him? His Teddy Daniels is smart, tortured, and vulnerable. Without spoiling major story elements, it is safe to say DiCaprio clearly trusts Scorsese’s plot twists to challenge him in new ways. Of course, DiCaprio maintains a certain amount of his slick and calculated veneer that has become part of his repertoire. Yet in this instant it works as the film, set in the early 1950s, allows his Detective Daniels (well, actually a federal marshal) have everything and the trench-coat to remind audiences of the Hitchcock days. And if audiences don’t feel his influence here than, shame, shame on them.
DiCaprio is supported well here, with his ethereal and haunted wife, Dolores, played by a (finally) captivating Michelle Williams. Even better is Ben Kingsley’s Dr. Crawley who, as usual, teeters on the boundary between creepy, cryptic and compassionate. Audiences will never quite now where he stands, yet that is exactly what makes him so crucial to the story. A story that also hinges on DiCaprio’s relationship with his partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), a role not requiring tremendous amounts of depth, but massive amounts of restraint. Even more necessary is Ruffalo’s reactionary work against the unraveling DiCaprio whose past somehow becomes intertwined with his mission on the island. A string of cameos almost by Samantha Morton, Patricia Clarkson, and Jackie Earle Haley round out the cast and make Shutter Island‘s inhabitants just as curious as the island itself.
And the island acts as a character in and of itself. Lush, destructive, and a brilliant backdrop to the story, the island provides a nice contrast to the bleak harrowing war nightmares DiCaprio experiences throughout the film. But one can only wish it all came together more. Although very enjoyable and entrancing, the film lacks that one extra element to really take off.
As in the beginning of Shutter Island audiences will get the sense that Scorsese not only embraced the 1950s setting within the diegesis of the film, but also within his style. Working with Richardson, it is clear that the filmmakers were conscious of filmmaking techniques and styles of the era. In particular, the pair make it obvious that green screens were used for scenes on boats and in moving cars. At first this appears inventive, even authentic, but Scorsese and Richardson do not sustain a consistency with this style. Instead, DiCaprio’s dream sequences are heavily stylized, using heightened color and production design. So instead of creating a clear palette for Shutter Island, the pair manage to make the film itself just as nebulous (maybe deliberately?) as the ending to Lehane’s story.
Most of all Shutter Island is a discussion starter, a though provoker. Do you believe the ending? The twists? Who do you believe? Without giving anything away, audiences will definitely, at least, shutter through the mind games and psychological havoc the film illustrates.