5-Word 365 #138 – Shutter Island

Time to tick another flick off the “Whaddya mean you haven’t seen that one?” list. Today, it’s the turn of Marty’s period rom-com.

Shutter Island

Trans Orbital Lobotomy? Sounds fun!

Two Deputy US Marshals – Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule – are despatched to a remote island in Boston Harbour to investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane that’s located there. As the search continues, it becomes apparent that Daniels may have an ulterior motive for taking this assignment. But is he the only one? Headfuckery ensues.

Between this and Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio had one hell of a 2010. It is no coincidence that I mention that other film specifically; as well as being tied contemporaneously, they are also tied thematically. Both stories are built around a man who has lost his wife in mysterious circumstances and may have also lost himself while he is haunted by her memory. But where Dom Cobb had a plan and a team to help him reach his goals, Teddy Daniels finds nothing but more darkness the deeper down the rabbit hole he falls. For years I was quite dismissive of DiCaprio as an actor. The whole teen-idol, floppy hair thing just irritated me, and consequently I never really gave any of his films a chance to stand on their own merits. His first collaborations with Scorsese however seemed to coincide with a maturity and an increased willingness to subvert his public image for the benefit of the part he was playing. Or, to put it a bit less flowery, he ain’t Romeo anymore. How much credit for this can be laid at Marty’s door is anyone’s guess, but he seems to be reaping most of the benefits.

The next time you go to a hospital for the criminally insane to investigate a missing persons, if you see a woman like this just turn around and leave,

I read Dennis Lehane’s novel Shutter Island a few years ago, shortly before the film was released. While this did spoil the impact of the ending when it came time to watch the movie, it allowed me the luxury of being able to pick up the various clues within the script and the performances without ruining the freshness of the film itself. That’s the choice that you have to make if you like both watching movies and reading books: which do you do first? Unless we’re talking about the Bourne series (the legend is that Tony Gilroy didn’t even read The Bourne Ultimatum until after he’d written the screenplay for it, so divergent from the source material had the films become) it’s just not possible to both read the flick and watch the book with an unprejudiced eye. Personally I like to crack the book first whenever possible. I like taking the extra creative effort that reading a book requires. To my mind, watching the movie first just means you don’t need to try so hard when you go back to the source. Frankly, it’s just lazy. You’re letting someone else’s imagination do the fun part of conjuring up the images that go with the words.

But this is a film review, not a book report. And the film is damn good. Yes, I know that is somewhat of a foregone conclusion when we’re talking about a Scorsese picture, but this is quite a departure for the man. To all intents and purposes, this is a ghost story; a full-on Gothic horror, packed with enough hurricanes, hallucinations and creepy architecture to probably please Val Lewton himself. I imagine Hitchcock would be quite as well, since there is a sense of homage to his work throughout. There’s the occasional more overt reference here and there too. Screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis has streamlined Lehane’s novel very effectively, reining in some of its pulpier tendencies while focusing on the sense of creeping dread and paranoia that is slowly building in Teddy the more time he spends on the island. She has also made the ending marginally less ambiguous though. While this fits with the character of Teddy as presented by Scorsese and DiCaprio, I liked that final bit of mystery in the book.

Nice tie, Teddy.;

Up to now you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film is a one-man show, but there are some fine actors stuck on this rock in the Hahbuh with Leo. I have to mention Mark Ruffalo first. Currently busy being the best thing in the best movie of the year (so far), he gives Deputy Aule his now-trademarked sense of mildly amused detachment which complements the more gung-ho Daniels well. At times it’s easy to forget these two have only just started working together. It seems almost as if they’ve known each other for years. The two main personalities in the hospital are the administrator Dr Cawley and the German senior practitioner Dr Naehring. These are played by Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow. These two doctors couldn’t be more different; Cawley is solicitous and polite to a fault while Naehring seems almost dismissive of Teddy’s and Chuck’s mission, although both are clearly hiding something from our eager investigative team. Michelle Williams is Dolores, Teddy’s dead wife. First seen in dreams, she becomes a daytime hallucination as his pursuit of the man responsible for her death intensifies. Due to the nature of what she is, there isn’t a lot of room for nuance, although she is a part of some of the most dazzling shots Scorsese has ever committed to film.

The film is very good but it falls just short of great. As entertaining as it is, it’s limited by its own narrow focus. But whatever flaws it may have, this is a visually stunning piece of work, even by Scorsese’s own already lofty standards.


  1. mhuard5 · May 18, 2012

    So far I’ve really liked all of the Lehane-inspired movies. This was the one I most looked forward to though since I loved the book. I agree the film was good, but not great.

    • Ryan McNeely · May 18, 2012

      It was actually the first movies (and his work on The Wire) that got me started reading his books. I’ve only read 3 or 4, but I really enjoyed them. I’ll try and catch up with the rest next year

  2. fernandorafael · May 21, 2012

    A very good movie, not great for me. Still, it’s hard to resist the talent of the cast, the look, the score. Very fun film.

    • Ryan McNeely · May 22, 2012

      Indeed. While this could have turned into a big ‘deep and meaningful’ film, the book was basically Lehane blowing off steam. I think Scorsese picked up on that and ran with it, and the result is this fun genre picture

  3. vinnieh · September 15, 2012

    Great post on the film, keep up the good work.

    • Ryan McNeely · September 15, 2012

      Thanks for stopping by Vinnie. Glad you enjoyed it.

      • vinnieh · September 15, 2012

        Thanks for the reply, you should check out my blog if you have the time.

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