‘Shutter Island’ Author Dennis Lehane Thinks Martin Scorsese ‘Nailed It’

Coming off of a long-overdue Best Picture Oscar win for “The Departed,” Martin Scorsese left himself with a hard act to follow. Instead of taking it easy with another tale of gangsters living and losing the high life, he went for a challenge: Dennis Lehane’s compelling thriller “Shutter Island,” which has about as much to do with gangsters as “Goodfellas” does with magic.

In “Shutter Island” we follow two U.S. Marshals who are dispatched to the titular location — home to an institution for the criminally insane — to investigate the disappearance of one of the inmates there. Scorsese vision falls close to the one laid out by Lehane in the book, a necessity given the careful staging of events as the story unfolds. Seeing the movie will give you some context for what’s discussed, but rest assured that there are no spoilers to be found here.

“It’s a book where it’s a complete house of cards, and if you remove one it’s all over,” Lehane said in an interview last with with MTV. “So you have to be exceptionally faithful to the material, at least structurally. It’s impossible to mess with it… without the whole thing collapsing.”

One thing that struck me as I watched the movie was how unlike other Scorsese films it feels. His touch is there, no question, but the unfolding tale is uniquely Lehane’s. The author acknowledges this, and credits the director for sticking to the script, both the proverbial one and the literal one. “Marty was working within that framework, he knew that from the very beginning,” the author explained. “I mean, you pull the wrong card and this thing falls apart.”

As far as the adaptation goes, Lehane was pleased. “I thought they nailed it. What happens in the movie is… it’s my work being filtered through their vision. And with Scorsese, you’re going to get a pretty indelible vision,” he explained. “It was quite the experience to see my work go through his head and… I thought that was the final icing on the cake. He just interpreted it visually in a way that certainly I never could have predicted.”

All of this talk begs the question of how much input Lehane had on the script. “Very little,” he revealed. “My contract with anybody who does adaptations is, my work, once I approve them in general, is to stay the hell out of their way.”

“It’s a personal choice [and] it’s also professional. I just think that you have to respect the other artist. You brought them in for a reason, now let them do their work. My feeling is always, I sure can’t stand anybody looking over my shoulder when I work, so why should I do it to anybody else. If I respect them enough to say, ’Oh, you’re the person for the job,’ then let them do the job.”

Such was the case with Laeta Kalogridis, who penned the “Shutter” script. Lehane explains how producer Brad Fischer brought her in and “just let her go.” It wasn’t until much later that Lehane saw a draft, which he actually had some issues with.

“I don’t know which draft it was, but it was pretty late in the process,” he explained. “And what’s become a running joke was actually true: my only objection to her draft was that it was a little too respectful of the material.”

Did you see “Shutter Island”? Have you read the book? How was the translation? Please– no spoilers in the comments!