Director Martin Scorsese goes all in with “Shutter Island.”
He’s got his latest muse – Leonardo DiCaprio – by his side, a bevy of talented supporting players and every camera trick in the director’s Oscar-winning arsenal.
He even sets the story in the noir-friendly ’50s, reveling in the period garb and the copious amounts of cigarette smoke.
And yet to say “Shutter Island” is less than the sum of its part is telling only a fraction of the story.
It’s a thriller without thrills, a mystery with a head scratching twist and an exercise in thematic overkill that never knocks you out of your seat.
It doesn’t even nudge you near the edge of said seat.
DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a federal marshal assigned to investigate a patient’s disappearance at an uber-high security asylum on … wait for it … Shutter Island.
His partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), offers some support, but they’re stymied by the island’s resident shrink (Ben Kingsley).
Nothing is quite what it appears to be on the rain-drenched island, a place where the lights have trouble staying on, inmates routinely escape and there’s a serious plumbing issue in every building.
That last part is an example of the stylish overkill Scorsese employs to tell his tale. He’s such a gifted director that he can breath new life into moldy film tropes. Even the film’s score, a companion piece to Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” music, is deliciously over the top.
But the director can’t manage to unnerve us.
The “Raging Bull” auteur stages each dream sequence, and our man Teddy sure does sleep fitfully, with all the subtlety of a WWE haymaker.
These moments all but shout, “Nothing to be afraid of, folks, Mr. DiCaprio’s character will wake up any moment, safe and sound.”
The closest Scorsese comes to scaring us is when Jackie Earle Haley makes a ghastly appearance. Suddenly, it’s hard not to be excited at the thought of Haley playing Freddy Krueger in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” remake.
DiCaprio is terrific as the tortured marshal, a former soldier haunted by memories of the concentration camps he helped liberate and the wife (Michelle Williams) who died at the hands of a fire bug. The actor looks older and more lived in than we’ve ever seen him before. He needs every emotional scab he can pick at, since the screenplay takes his character in places few detectives could survive.
“Shutter Island” is rarely dull, but that’s mainly because you hope against hope Scorsese is saving the best for last. Yet the film’s big reveal is a fraud, plain and simple. It makes no sense at first blush and disintegrates the more you mull it over.
The same can be said of the film itself.
(Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio teams with director Martin Scorsese for the fourth time in “Shutter Island.” Paramount Pictures)