With only one Oscar win under his belt for direction, Martin Scorsese has sure been on fire over the last decade with Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and his win for The Departed. There seems to be just no slowing the man down. After having just received his Cecil B. DeMille Award at this year’s Golden Globes, his latest turn behind the camera, Shutter Island, is nothing short of a masterpiece. What’s one thing his last four films all have in common? One name – Leonardo DiCaprio.
Their latest collaboration, Shutter Island, comes from a critically-praised novel from Dennis Lehane. While the author is not known for heartfelt-love-conquers-all storylines, they are rooted in a reality that’s gritty and much more palatable when you want things a little more realistic in your movies. From the man who brought us heartbreak and suspense from the streets of Boston comes the same recipe for success, but just off the shores of his native land.
Having read and loved all of Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro novels, I made it a point to be sure to read his Shutter Island as soon as the film was greenlit. After having read the novel, it was clear that one thing must be sure of to guarantee the film a success: it must remain as true to the source as possible or it just won’t work. Thankfully, Scorsese and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis appear to be huge fans of their source material and have given a masterful interpretation in bringing Shutter Island to the big screen.
Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is just offshore on a ferry bound for Ashecliffe Hospital, an institution for the criminally insane, which sits atop the rock known as Shutter Island. It’s 1954 and Teddy is on his way along with his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate the disappearance of patient Rachel Solando. Everyone seems in a rush to find their missing patient who appears to have simply vanished. The two most hurried to find Rachel is Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow).
A storm is approaching the island and with the risk of a hurricane in their midst everyone must either solve the case or find Rachel before it’s too late. Through the proceedings, Teddy’s past is peeled away, layer by layer. We learn Teddy’s really come to the island to find the man (Laeddis, played by Elias Koteas) responsible for killing his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) in an apartment fire whom Teddy believes is being held in Ward C, where the most dangerous patients are locked away. Teddy also has plans to blow the lid on patient experimentation akin to what the Nazi’s used during WWII.
When Dr. Cawley announces that they’ve found Rachel (Emily Mortimer), Teddy interrogates her and is not convinced that this is the real Rachel. After the storm blows out the island’s power and the staff have to contain the patients Teddy and Chuck use the disorientation of the moment to have their own run of the island and this is when Teddy discovers the real Rachel (Patricia Clarkson) who lets Teddy in on some island secrets and he begins to question the motives of not just the local staff but of his new partner and himself as well.
Scorsese is working overtime in Cape Fear mode here, and some would say he may even be working at his most unrestrained. But what he’s managed to pull off here is a grand bait-and-switch of menacingly operatic proportions. DiCaprio and Williams turn in tour-de-forces while Scorsese surrounds them with spectacularly surreal and all the more frightening dream sequences seamlessly blending a gradually booming foghorn score with perfectly rendered special effects to pull off some of the most intense sequences in quite some time.
What ultimately pulls the film together is it’s true sense of ebb and flow. Everything happens for a reason and when and what Scorsese reveals along the way is all for the sake of making sure everything makes sense. Great crescendos lead the way and just when you think things are headed for their worst there’s a pause to leave you hanging before the scene hurtles into its climax. After Shutter Island you could truly call Scorsese a maestro as he pulls his strings to watch you squirm.