Friday, February 19, 2010

A Dark, Stormy, Bumpy "Shutter Island"

Atmosphere As Thick As Cape Cod Fog

By Skip Sheffield

It was a dark and stormy night...

The foreboding is palpable from the first few frames of Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Usland." To quote another movie cliche: we know we are in for a bumpy ride, and Robbie Robertson's jolting musical soundtrack of contemporary classical works doesn't let us forget it for a minute.

The good news is that Leonardo DiCaprio continues to grow as an actor in his fourth collaboration with Scorsese, based on Dennis Lehane's complex, twisted mystery novel.

The year is 1954. All the men wear fedoras and smoke like fiends. Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is a seasoned U.S. Federal Marshall. Chuck Aules is his new partner.

A woman has vanished from the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. She escaped from Ward C, which houses the most violent prisoners- er patients.

We immediately suspect something fishy is up with chief administrator Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley). He's just too calm, too glib. We know he is not revealing all he knows.

Fishier still is his associate, Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), and it's not just his heavy German accent. The guy looks like he's just itching to perform experiments on live human beings.

This is particularly unsettling for Teddy Daniels, because he was involved in the liberation of Dachau, one of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps. He also lives with the trauma of losing his three children to murder and his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) to an arsonist's fire.

The more Daniels investigates, the more confusing things become. It doesn't help that two different women (Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson) play the same escapee, Rachel Solando.

Scorsese seems to delight in creeping us out every step of the way, with flashbacks to dead bodies, drowned children, burning buildings and mutilated characters, such as Jackie Earle Haley's freaky George Noyce. Is anyone to be trusted on this island? The short answer is no.

Scorsese piles on the dark atmosphere for a tad too long. Some judicious editing could have made this a tauter thriller than the shrieking, lumbering horror show it is.

If you guessed the central plot twist, go to the head of the class. I did not read the novel, but I am told Laeta Kalogridis' adptation is faithful, down to the shocking conclusion.

If you liked the Scorsese of "Cape Fear" will will love this Grand Guignol potboiler. I know I did.