Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Shutter Island: the most anticipated film of 2009?

Martin Scorsese returns to the central themes of his long and celebrated directorial career with the fall release of Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in his fourth collaboration with the master filmmaker. Madness, murder, revenge and redemption permeate this new project, based on an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-selling 2004 novel.

Briefly, Shutter Island follows the investigations of U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and his new partner Chuck Aule as they search for a missing patient at Ashecliffe, a hospital for the criminally insane built on the eponymous island from the remnants of a Civil War hospital. The setting is pure gothic horror, while the psychiatrists who care for the deeply disturbed patients on Shutter Island depend on the relatively primitive methods available to them in 1954 – a decade before psychotropic drugs were widely used to treat mental illness, while surgery (think: frontal lobotomy) was the primary method of managing the maniacally deranged.

Daniels has been dispatched to investigate the disappearance of Rachel Solando, a savagely violent patient who had murdered her three children and presumably is hiding somewhere on the island, which is too far from the mainland for anyone to attempt a swimming escape. The mystery deepens as a hurricane bears down on the desolate island, blocking the ferry from returning to evacuate patients, staff and the federal marshals. Meanwhile, Daniels begins to suspect that the hospital physicians are involved with sinister experiments and it seems the U.S. marshal may have his own agenda.

Principal photography wrapped in June 2008, but the notoriously meticulous Scorsese typically takes a year to fine-tune his films with editor Thelma Schoonmaker. The film is set for wide US release on Oct. 2.

What a cast: DiCaprio stars as Teddy Daniels. The supporting cast features Mark Ruffalo as Teddy’s partner Chuck Aule, with Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow as the hospital's chief physicians, and the tremendous character actor Ted Levine (who played Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs), in a supporting role as warden of the mental hospital.

It’s easy to see why Scorsese would be attracted to this tale of madness, vengeance and the quest for redemption. These are the recurring themes in his greatest films, from The Departed, Gangs of New York, Casino, and Cape Fear, through Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and Mean Streets – all revolve around the unholy trinity that has preoccupied Scorsese since his earliest days as a filmmaker.

I devoured Lehane’s gripping novel in a matter of hours and instantly saw the cinematic possibilities in my mind’s eye. On the downside, the plot twist may not come as much of a surprise to the careful reader; I saw it coming about 100 pages before Lehane probably intended for me to figure out his narrative destination. And so, the delicate structure Shutter Island, the novel, will only be compounded in Shutter Island, the film. Scorsese has given himself a massive challenge in tackling this material. If he is successful, audiences can count on the most startling surprise ending since Haley Joel Osment saw dead people a decade ago in The Sixth Sense. If not, the entire film will collapse on a tricky plot point as old as film itself.

If you want to savor the surprise, I implore you: do not read the novel or continue any further with this blog post.

Those who have already torn through Lehane’s compulsively readable book will no doubt wonder how Scorsese will be able to reflect the inner turmoil of the mind in cinematic terms. To that, I can only suggest another viewing of Taxi Driver (1976), which more than any film I have seen succeeds in conveying a man’s state of mind with minimal dialog or the hoary old trick of introducing a psychiatrist (as in Hitchcock’s Psycho) to explain everything and wrap the picture in a tidy little package.

The more I mull the plot in my mind (I keep thinking of a blend between The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), the more difficult it becomes to contain my anticipation. October 2nd can’t get here soon enough.

If Scorsese succeeds in preserving the plot twist right up to the climactic reveal, then everything else that makes Shutter Island so satisfying will fall seamlessly into place. The result will be a blockbuster stamped with the artistic imprimatur of a true auteur. And another Academy Award could be forthcoming for this greatest of living directors.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. A macadamia worthy film, no doubt - and I enjoyed reading your thoughts.


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