Scorsese's Gathering Storm: Lehane Novel Sets Table for Scorsese to Soar

City Pulse | February 15, 2010
Scorsese's Gathering

Lehane Novel Sets Table for Scorsese to Soar

Shutter Island (Four Stars) (627 words)

By Cole Smithey

For his forty-fifth film Martin Scorsese crafts a gorgeously stylized psychological thriller full of darkly lush horror that torments its obsessed protagonist. As former WWII vet and U.S. Marshal, Edward "Teddy" Daniels, Leonardo DiCaprio hits every psychological mark that Scorsese dynamically orchestrates against a vast metaphorical natural and unnatural setting. Peddocks Island in Nahant, Massachusetts stands in for "Shutter Island," a Boston Harbor land mass, circa 1954, that contains a private prison hospital for the criminally insane where a female inmate named Rachel Solondo has recently escaped from her unbroken cell. Teddy and his first-time partner U.S. Marshall Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) arrive on the fog-shrouded isle to investigate the patient's disappearance but don't receive much cooperation from the hospital's governing psychiatric doctors (played by Sir Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow). The manically obsessed Teddy suffers from terrible migraines and has walking nightmares that recall his wife's tragic death and terrible atrocities he witnessed while helping to liberate Jews from the Nazi Dachau concentration camp as a U.S. soldier. Teddy has his own private agenda to investigate the facility on informed suspicions that the doctors are performing outrageous experiments on its patients ala the Nazi's Dr. Mengale. The island's wide open and yet closed-off perimeter represents a physical corollary to the internal mystery that paralyzes Teddy with grief and confusion.

The obvious bond that has developed between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio over the course four films ("The Gangs of New York" - 2002, "The Aviator" - 2004, and "The Departed" - 2006) presents audiences with a rare phenomenon of fulfilled potential. With the ever dependable DiCaprio as his modern-day De Niro, Scorsese is at liberty as a storyteller to dig far deeper into narrative depths than most filmmakers could ever imagine. Along with Daniel Day Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the few film actors around who goes beyond creating a character to bite and scratch at the very edges of what human identity is made up of.

"Shutter Island" is a complex mystery that exponentially folds back on itself during the third act. It is not a narrative that a novice filmmaker, no matter how talented, could execute well because of the demanding nature of the material's precarious "state of mind." Crucial to the palpable tapestry of sociological themes that Scorsese juggles is the way the director moves the camera and shifts perspectives from an icosahedron of perspectives to give the audience a sense of physical context with which to judge dangerous themes at play.

Teddy suffers from what we would term today as a severe form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He witnessed evidence of experiments performed on Jews in Hitler's camps, and now has information that similarly grotesque experiments are going on at Shelter Island where one inmate has vanished and another one may be unaccounted-for. A personal ghost haunts Teddy in the form of his deceased wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) who died in a fire set by a man who Teddy is trying to find.

Shot in visually opulent "widescreen," Scorsese draws on a variety of cinematic references for a psychosomatic puzzle of foreboding and suspense. Whatever faults audiences might find with Dennis Lehane's imperfect yet solid source material, Scorsese uses the convoluted narrative to create layers of stylized and historic textures. Even the color of the blood that we see so much of is an abstract confection of cinematic intentionality. In another gesture to old friends, Scorsese used Robbie Robertson to curate the film's expressive soundtrack of previously recorded material. America's most accomplished and inspired director has made yet another truly engrossing picture.

(Paramount Pictures) Rated R. 138 mins. (A-) (Four Stars)

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