Of the three screen adaptations of Denis Lehane's novels, I think Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island lands in the top spot. Ben Affleck previously directed Lehane's novel Gone Baby Gone to great effect, showing his skills as a filmmaker and giving his brother Casey a terrific vehicle to highlight his ever growing talents. Lehane's Mystic River was brought to the screen in Clint Eastwood's multi-Oscar-winning film a few years before that. But Scorsese, our greatest living director, unsurprisingly outdoes the others, bringing a story of tremendous atmosphere, intrigue, emotion, and suspense for us to be enraptured by.
Leonardo DiCaprio again stars (his fourth straight turn as Scorsese's leading man), this time as Teddy Daniels, a WWII veteran and US Marshal sent to the psychiatric hospital at Shutter Island to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a patient. They're introduced to Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Dr. Naehring (Max von Sydow), the presiding psychiatrists of the hospital, who only partially cooperate with Teddy's investigation. As Teddy and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) scour the facilities a little deeper, they can't escape the sense that they may not be able to get off the island. They dig into the many mysteries surrounding them, and Teddy, while still mourning the loss of his wife, fights to keep his sanity as everything around him seems pointed towards his impending doom.
Scorsese plays with the tragic mood of the picture in a way he's never dealt with before. I've heard that he said he wanted to film it like a Hitchcock movie, only like if it was made in modern times. So there are many shots with the fake feeling of the old back projection technology, as Teddy's riding along in a jeep at one point, for instance, it's quite obvious that he's against a screen projecting the image. But Scorsese has never been one to have showy techniques in his movies without reason. When he used period correct coloring processes in The Aviator, it helped put us in the time in a subconscious way so that Scorsese didn't have to always spell out when times had changed. And his use of different techniques here are also certainly with reason, but I will leave the reasons for you to discover and consider.
So Scorsese has given us another movie worth dissecting and analyzing, while not forgetting to give us talented actors at the top of their games, and actually giving us one of his few movies with a plot!