Though 2010 may well be remembered as the year that saw tragedies such as the massive earthquake in Haiti and the cave in and mine collapse that trapped more than thirty Chilean miners underground it will also be remembered as the year that saw the release of huge films such as The Hurt Locker (2008), Avatar (2009) and the first part of the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) finale.
This year also saw the release of a couple of well received by decidedly quieter pieces that, despite not making the splash made by James Cameron’s blue 3D extravaganza still sent ripples around the cinematic world if not for their size but for their style. Two such films make up those discussed in this article, the seventh in the special anniversary series celebrating the most popular rentals released throughout Cinema Paradiso’s history. The films explored this time round are Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2009) and the original Swedish rendition of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009).
Shutter Island, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (also known for his novel Mystic River (2003) which was brought to the screen by Clint Eastwood back in 2003) tells the story of a man-hunt, or rather, woman-hunt, for a murderess who has escaped from a remote mental institute. Set in 1954 the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo as U.S. Marshals sent to the hospital based on an island off the shore of Boston where doctors John Cawly (Ben Kingsley) and Jeremiah Naehring (Max von Sydow) have set up shop; their methods and treatments ranging from unorthodox to the outright illegal and cruel. When, however, it transpires that DiCaprio’s Teddy has been angling to get onto the island for personal reasons things begin to take an even more sinister turn.
Though I may count myself as someone who is not easily scared there is certainly something undeniably creepy about Shutter Island, the doubts that begin to circulate both around the minds of Teddy and the audience unsettle any and all possible stability available on the island; things take an even darker turn when other patients escape from the hospital and a freak hurricane traps Teddy and his partner on the island.
Such an obviously convenient turn of events becomes quickly masked within the darkness of the picture and where one finds oneself frustrated by many clumsier thrillers Shutter Island remains rooted in the intrigue and mystery surrounding the characters; easily drawing attention away from potentially ungainly plot points.
Both Scorsese’s long-standing directorial skills and the excellent use of music help to make Shutter Island a tense and dread laden thriller, the questions that whirl around like the looming storm reveal answers only in snatches of lightning, so rather than clarifying the entire situation simply becomes all the more worrying. Couple this with the utterly excellent performances by DiCaprio as the war-scarred Teddy, Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of a potentially untrustworthy Chuck and the eerie and secretive Kingsley and von Sydow and Shutter Island is going to keep you absolutely hooked, clinging to the edge of your seat as the wind whips around you and the hurricane strands you, alongside the mentally unstable and truly dangerous, on that dreadful off shore rock.
The other film up for discussion in this article is another crime-thriller, with similarly dark overtones and mystery The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is in many ways much like Shutter Island. Also, an adaptation, this time from the first in a series of novels by the now deceased Stieg Larsson, this version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo must not be confused with the latter American release of the same name that stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, a Danish director known mostly for his work on native television, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo centres on the life of journalist Mikael Blomkvist who, tasked by an aging client, goes in search of a woman who has been missing for forty years. The most striking aspect of this film is the very same part that caused the novel to become so popular; the depth and intertwining lives of the two central characters: the open and charming Blomkvist and the secretive, deceptive and intriguing Lisbeth Salander (brought perfectly to life by Noomi Rapace). Though it is the story, the mystery Blomkvist is attempting to solve, that bring the two together, it is their inexplicable and yet intense connection that draws them close and it is this, alongside the dark and murky depths of Blomkvists mystery, that keep the audience involved.
Managing the business of telling two simultaneous stories (i.e. that of Blomkvist and Lisbeth’s blooming relationship and the mystery they are attempting to solve) is a delicate one and many a film maker has failed in their attempts to do so. It is this aspect of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that stands it so strongly apart from its American counterpart; the focus here falls neither on the couple nor the mystery, both are handled with the same level of importance, dolling out complexities and offering brief peeks into dark and secretive corners with just enough human emotion to catch the balance between the two. Such themes are ultimately epitomized in the characters of Blomkvist and Lisbeth themselves, one who is so utterly at home with and familiar with his emotions attempting to understand a woman who has kept hers tightly held against her chest for many years. Together the couple are like the mystery they investigate, on the one hand there is the clear and acceptable story that has been circulating for years yet on the other there is the unavoidably alluring darkness of the reality, the truth, the life that the world does not really want to see. As a journalist Blomkvist is perfectly placed to explore this maze of emotion and deception, yet even he finds himself poorly equipped to handle some of the creatures that lurk in this darkness. Thankfully for him Lisbeth knows these shadows well and walks them with confidence, the two complement one another perfectly, saving one another and understanding one another in a way that no other could.
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