June 7, 2009

Shutter Island Review

"Shutter Island" by Dennis Lehane
Book Review by Aden Jordan

After finding out recently that Martin Scorsese is currently shooting an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel "Shutter Island" with Leonardo DiCaprio, I rushed to Border's a week ago to pick up a copy of the book and had finished the nearly 400 page book in less than three days. "Shutter Island" is one of the most entertaining books I've read in the past year, and the original text should make for another more "guilty pleasure"-centric film for Scorsese along the lines of his last work, (the great) "The Departed".

I'm not as familiar with Dennis Lehane as I'd like to be. I read his novel "Mystic River" around the time Clint Eastwood's film adaptation of the book came out. Lehane's writing in "Mystic River", the book, reminded me of Stephen King; particularly with King's almost tragic curse of putting wonderfully fleshed out and developed characters into plot-driven situations found in B horror movies. Lehane is much the same: like King, he puts so much effort into solid character development only to throw these fully-developed characters into situations from genre pictures. Though Lehane writes noir-ish detective stories and King specializes in horror, they share this same flaw.

The main character in "Shutter Island", Teddy Daniels, is further evidence of how Lehane constructs complicated and believable characters more fitting of highbrow tragedies than detective novels. In the book, Daniels is a U.S. Marshall assigned to finding a missing patient on an island prison for the criminally insane. Like with "Mystic River" (both the book and film), "Shutter Island" takes place in Boston only this story takes place in the 1950s and not the present day. Daniels first comes across as a tough guy rugged individualist who also prides himself upon working towards the greater good, be it the United States, the world, or God. There's more to Daniels though than his stoic prior service in the Army in World War II and his tough guy exterior. Through gradual exposition, we learn that his wife was murdered by a criminal arsonist and that Daniels is both depressed and suicidal. Daniels really is a fantastic character: he is deeply flawed with his own demons while also being an easy to like detective hero.

I'm hoping Scorsese's film version of the book turns out to be a faithful adaptation. This is an exciting book, destined to be made into a film. DiCaprio seems like a good choice for the role of Daniels because the actor proved he could hold his own as a tough guy against harder actors like Ray Winstone in "The Departed". Despite his pretty boy features, there is something inherently likable about DiCaprio as well and this should help him sink into the role. Mark Ruffalo has been cast as Daniel's charming partner Chuck Aule and Ben Kingsley is set to play the book's is he or isn't he antagonist, Dr. Crawley.

In the end, Lehane takes the easy way out with the climax of "Shutter Island". He pulls a twist that I didn't see coming but that more focused readers will probably find predictable. The conclusion of "Mystic River" was a bit of a let down as well: the kids in the background of the story were the murderers all along? Then again, both "Mystic River" the book and film, have the great final image of the detective waving at the town criminal as if to say "I know, and this isn't over yet". Scorsese's adaptation hasn't come out yet, so my final say on "Shutter Island" also isn't over yet.

--Aden (our newest critic, sorry Andrew we've got someone newer, younger, and drunker)

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