It’s 1954 and US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) is seasick aboard a ferry heading to an island in the Boston Harbor. He has been sent to Ashecliffe Hospital, a federal penal institution for the criminally insane to investigate the disappearance of murderess Rachel Solando. A hurricane is advancing as he slowly discovers all is not it what it seems.
On the ferry Teddy meets his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), who tells him that he has been recently transferred from Seattle. The island looming ahead looks forbidding and inescapable. The approaching storm casts dreariness on the already spooky location. The grounds are neat and tidy, cared for by the inmates or “patients” as they are referred to by slick Dr. Joseph Cawley (Ben Kingsley). The buildings are civil war relics, including a huge stone fort that is now called Ward C and is used for the most violent of offenders. No one is allowed there unless accompanied by Dr. Cawley or the Warden (Ted Levine).
Teddy reluctantly surrenders his firearm before entering the compound. He wants to see all the paper work on the patients and the guards, but is met by resistance from Dr. Haehring (Max von Sydow) who claims the hospital board voted no to his request. He is allowed to question the patients about Rachel Salando (Emily Mortimor) and they tell him the same answer practically word for word. During one interview, a patient from her group therapy sessions warns Teddy to “run”. While questioning the staff, they all seem to be condescending and suspicious which fuels his unease.
On top of all this paranoia, Teddy is experiencing blinding migraines, nightmares, and waking hallucinations. He has intense memories of being a soldier liberating a death camp during the war. He’s also seeing his wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) who, as he tells his partner Chuck, had died in a house fire set by arsonist Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas). It turns out that Laeddis is also incarcerated at Ashecliffe. Teddy confesses to Chuck that he really took this assignment to look for Laeddis who he thinks is in Ward C.
During the storm he and Chuck, dressed as orderlies, sneak into Ward C where he finds a very battered George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley). Teddy relays that George had told him about Laeddis being in Ward C. He also told him that the patients in Ward C were also subjected to mind control experiments performed in the lighthouse. When he returns from the dark eerie fort, he’s informed that Rachel has been found and he can return to the mainland when the ferry arrives. But Teddy wants to check out the ocean surrounding the lighthouse, find Laeddis, and blow the cover off the secrets of Ashecroft Hospital.
The novel by Dennis Lehane is a better read than the resulting screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis (Pathfinder). Even if you hadn’t read the book, you will probably be able to figure out where it’s all headed. Director Martin Scorsese (The Departed and a million other quality films) effectively moves the action along punctuated by Robbie Robertson’s (The Band) heavy handed cellos….just in case you didn’t know to feel creepy enough. The film does have some interesting moments, but the whole weight of the movie feels bogged down by the claustrophobic narrative and misdirection. I’m not a DiCaprio fan and was annoyed by the constant close-ups of his furrowed brow to accentuate his psyche confusion.
For anyone who has ever lived in Boston, trying to replicate the Beantown accent is very difficult. Most people sound like they are doing Jersey or Long Island and this is no exception. It’s like people doing a Texas twang. If not done right, it becomes distracting. It’s interesting to note that Robert Downy Jr. and Josh Brolin were once considered for the parts of Teddy and Chuck. Now that would have been interesting. (Review by Reesa Cruz Hawkins of Dallas Movie Screenings)