Welcome to ''Shutter Island'' -- Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese team up again for the spooky thriller

Normally, Martin Scorsese talks a mile a minute. Words rat-a-tat-tat out of his mouth like bullets from a tommy gun. But today, speaking about Shutter Island, his psychological thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio (who else?), Mark Ruffalo, and Ben Kingsley, the famously fast-talking director can barely utter a run-on sentence. ”I don’t always like the process of making movies,” he says. ”It can be disturbing. Sometimes the spell of a movie takes over. Even after we’ve finished filming and the actors are all gone, and I’m editing or doing sound mixing — which is what I’m doing now — the spell can stay with me. It stays with me for a good long time.”

It may stay with audiences just as long. In fact, Shutter Island could end up being the spookiest meditation on madness shot by a filmmaker of Scorsese’s stature since Stanley Kubrick handed Jack Nicholson an ax in The Shining. Based on the creepy 2003 book by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the novels Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone), Island follows two U.S. marshals (DiCaprio and Ruffalo) who, in 1954, investigate the disappearance of a patient from a high-security facility for the criminally insane where a dark conspiracy may be unfolding. Kingsley plays one of the institution’s doctors, while Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen) continues his career comeback as an inmate who may know something about the missing woman. But not everything is as it seems. And DiCaprio’s character has his own issues. ”He’s a World War II veteran who was at the liberation of Dachau,” the actor explains. ”So he sees lots of visions from his past. He’s haunted by the atrocities he’s seen.”

Funnily enough, Shutter Island came close to being directed by action specialist Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One), who bought the rights about six years ago but let them lapse. Then producer Brad Fischer (Zodiac), who’d been itching to adapt the novel since finding it at an airport bookshop, picked up the property (with Mike Medavoy), hired Laeta Kalogridis (Pathfinder) to tap out a script, and got a copy to Scorsese. The timing was perfect. Scorsese’s plans to make The Wolf of Wall Street (another DiCaprio vehicle) had recently collapsed, so the director had an opening on his calendar. ”I decided to make Shutter Island literally the night I read the script,” Scorsese says. ”I just felt very strongly about the characters and what they go through.”

Much of the movie was shot in spring ’08 at Medfield State Hospital, an abandoned mental institution in Massachusetts. ”You did get a sense of the history that had gone on in there,” Scorsese says of the derelict redbrick hospital. ”The peeling paint, the floorboards breaking underneath your feet, the old pieces of equipment laying around — the place reeked of suffering.” DiCaprio didn’t find the set cheery either. ”We went to some pretty hardcore places during the filming of this movie,” he says. ”And not just where we shot it, but emotionally and psychologically. We didn’t pull any punches.”

After shooting three films together (Gangs of New York, The Aviator, and The Departed), Scorsese and DiCaprio have developed something of a shorthand on set. ”There are certain moments when we just look at each other after a take,” says Scorsese. ”Leo will give me a glance and I’ll nod and he’ll say, ‘I know, I know, I know.”’ But Scorsese still engaged in long, probing discussions with DiCaprio, as well as the other actors, about virtually every aspect of the film’s characters and plot. For Kingsley, those conversations more than made up for the grim surroundings. ”Marty has a love of the little incidental details that add up to something of enormous consequences,” he says. ”The way a glass is held. The way a steering wheel is turned. The way a man lights his pipe. It’s as if he has a layer peeled off his eyeballs — he doesn’t miss anything.”

Which explains why Scorsese sometimes finds it hard to look. ”Often I’ll walk away from a movie and never want to see it again,” he says. ”That happened with The Departed. And Gangs of New York, too. Don’t get me wrong — I like this movie. You can draw a straight line from the psychological horror of Cape Fear to Shutter Island. Cape Fear was an experiment in pushing the limits of a genre. Shutter Island takes it even further. It’s just that right now I’m still making the movie,” he says, with a weary-sounding laugh. ”So I can’t see my way out of it.”

Shutter Island
  • Movie
  • 138 minutes