Shutter Island

Personally, I still find Leonardo diCaprio to be kind of an iffy actor. He’s improved an awful lot since he first made me wince in the movie about the really big ship (he did fine in Blood Diamond, for instance), but he still seems to me to need a little help to manage a really good performance. Though I freely admit I might still be holding a subconscious grudge over The Aviator. And the movie about the really big ship. The point is, Leo gets whatever help he needs here, thanks in large part to Martin Scorsese, I’m sure, and also to the excellent framework provided by Dennis Lehane, the man who wrote the novel Gone Baby Gone.
Shutter Island is a fictional island, off the coast of Massachusetts. The movie was filmed in that area, though, using bits of other islands and the former Medfield State Hospital, an actual mental asylum built in 1896 and finally closed in 2003. The place is supposedly haunted, so it has exactly the right atmosphere for this film, where it doubles as Ashecliffe Hospital. It isn’t exactly a horror movie in the usual sense — more a psychological thriller — but it’s seriously creepy. And to make things even more oppressive, a Civil War-era fortress looms over everything — actually Fort Andrews, originally built in the Revolutionary War and rebuilt during the Civil War. It’s like a dark, damp medieval castle, and those are always spooky.
Leo, as Federal Marshal Edward “Teddy” Daniels, arrives on Shutter Island by ferry, just ahead of a terrible storm, with his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo, Zodiac, who does an excellent, beautifully subtle job here — maybe he helped inspire Leo, too; and let me just also add how terribly glad I am that they didn’t actually cast Mark Wahlberg in this role). It seems that in spite of the formidable security — Teddy calls it “electronic security”, though I’m not sure they would have used that term in 1954, when the film is set — one of their patients has disappeared. Since Shutter Island takes only the worst of the worst patients, those other hospitals won’t touch, having one of them running around loose is a Very Bad Thing.
The missing patient, Rachel Solando, looks pretty harmless in the picture they show Teddy, but it seems that she was responsible for the drowning deaths of her three children, an act she’s completely forgotten. But however insane she might be, she was apparently clever enough to vanish from her locked room and elude all the guards, nurses, and orderlies; so the marshals have their work cut out for them. That work gets even harder when the man in charge of Ashecliffe, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley, and considering what a busy man he is, I can’t believe this is the first flim of his I’ve reviewed), seems slightly less than cooperative. Teddy is instantly suspicious and threatens to leave, but the storm, now raging over the island, means that the marshals can’t leave yet.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Teddy’s wife Dolores has passed away and is now a hallucination (played by Michelle Williams, from that movie whose name I always forget). He sees her everywhere, and though the visions of her are pretty creepy, they’re also very sad. As he tells Chuck, she died in a fire in their apartment building — from the smoke, not from the fire, he emphasizes — and the firebug who started the blaze and then escaped was one Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas, also from Zodiac, but I’ll always think of him as the man who shot House). Teddy’s hallucinatory wife insists that Laeddis is on Shutter Island, and suddenly his quest is just as much about finding Laeddis — who everyone says they’ve never heard of — as it is about finding Rachel Solando.
There’s a nifty twist at the end, so I can’t really say any more, lest I risk giving it away. I suspected it about five or ten minutes in, and was sure about halfway through, but actually, it was still okay, because then I could sit back and catch lots of the more subtle clues that were worked into the film. There are plenty of them, so many people might want to see it twice. Those sneaky Hollywood types!
But seriously, it’s a movie you have to think about. The last line is so subtle and sad, I kept thinking about it after I left, and really, that’s what those sneaky Hollywood people are after. Four and three-quarter idols for this one. Some of the imagery is very disturbing, though, so be warned. Teddy, for instance, flashes back several times to his days as a soldier liberating the concentration camp at Dachau, and the images are about as horrible as you’d expect. But it’s a very well-done film, with many layers and believeable characters. You’ll recognize several faces, including the third person in the Zodiac reunion, John Carroll Lynch as Deputy Warden McPherson (far left in the picture above), and Ted Levine of Silence of the Lambs fame. I wonder if he’s sick and tired of people remembering him first as Buffalo Bill? Because I think most people do. But there are worse movies to be so connected with — Mark Wahlberg’s never going to live down Max Payne, in my mind.
Anyway, go check this one out. I’m pretty sure all the talkative middle-aged ladies in the country saw it at the same time I did, so it should be safe now.