dir: M. Night Shyamalan
You don't need a ouija board, an on-line fortune teller or one of Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends at five dollars a minute on the phone to tell you that this film has ""stinker"" written all over it in twelve-foot dayglo letters. It's put out by Disney, the director is following up the commercial ""Working girl at a Liberal Party conference"" financial success of his first film, The Sixth Sense, and it has Bruce Willis in it yet again. And,
not that it matters, but one acquainted with the net could not ignore the sheer abundance of middling to mediocre reviews this film has garnered. And the last factor not in its favour is the implication that the film had something to do with comic books. Nothing gives off that sphincter loosening aroma of failure like
the words: "Based on the comic book/graphic novel", or "In The Tradition Of", or "I'm sorry, I must have had too much to drink."
With none of this in mind, I ventured forth into the Greater Union cinema, still seeing no indication of anything that Great or Unionised about the place. The audience was full of your usual cud-chewing, mobile-phone-ringing, talking during the quiet bits fuckknuckles that we've all come to know and love. After a stream
of increasingly meaningless and indecipherable trailers, I lay back and prepared myself either to be dazzled or for a restive, comfortable nap.
Let's look at the elements included herein:
Nothing turns up a film snob's nose up quicker than a film that achieves extraordinary box office success. The Sixth Sense was a money juggernaut last year, and many people were ejaculating all over the place about it, for better or worse. For many, expectation was very high for his (Shyamalan's) sophomore effort. I thought 6th Sense was a tremendous film, even watching it knowing what the twist was well before hand, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Willis was restrained, the kid was magnificent and spooky without being reclaimed as cutesy, and it was wonderfully filmed and put together. Colour me a fan of my man Shyamalan.
Bruce Willis is a film enigma. For every Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys and Die Hard he's been in, there's Armageddon, Colour of Night and Die Hard 4: My Colostomy Bag Has Ruptured. He has a capacity for being tremendous in film roles, he just needs to be reminded by the director every few minutes or so that he was married to Demi Moore for many years, thus bringing him back to earth and making him feel humble again.
Samuel L. Jackson is a consistent actor, depending on whether you like him or not. If you dislike the man, his performances range from nails down the blackboard to tolerable. I am a fan, but I have loathed his performance in certain films (ie. Jackie Brown).
I needn't have worried. The bad press had slightly lowered my expectations, and I was expecting the film to be a generously paced, thought provoking affair, as indeed it was.
The film is ever so slightly a homage to comic books and a tribute to those who at an early age, or even at an advanced age, have ever collected, read, adored, or revered comics. This is a superhero comic book film without a superhero premise, and it is the best conceptual use of the ""genre"" that I think I've seen so
far. It takes the premise and grounds it in such a firm reality that the questions it raises have even more relevance. There are several references to the history of comic story representation, the conceptual battle against ""evil"", whilst avoiding the cliches of the genre yet including enough fundamentals to make it resonate.
The performances are pretty good, though Jackson doesn't say motherfucker once. The manner in which the characters are written and portrayed is superb. The setup and filming of the shots is low-key and masterful. The premise is thoughtful, and, excluding the ending, doesn't take the path of least audience
bladder resistance, engaging those willing to give it the time to absorb.
Bruce is fantastic in the role of a broken, pathetic man, with a permanent hangdog expression on his face. He's missed the boat, life's passed him by, and he feels a yawning emptiness inside. He doesn't know where he belongs, what his purpose is. He is so good in this role that you can almost forgive him for all the
other crap he's been in.
Samuel L. is fantastic in the role of a broken, pathetic man whose love of comic books and an unfortunate propensity for bone breakages has turned him into a man with a mission: to find meaning in his own life, to find the reason for his existence. He believes that comic books hold the answer to his riddle, that they hold deeper unconscious collective truths beneath the spandex and large breasts. In the David Dunne (Bruce) character, he believes he has found the answer.
Spencer Treat Clark is wonderful in the role of a broken, pathetic child who is convinced his father is a superhero. If his father is a superhero, then that makes him special too, plus, there couldn't be anything a pre-pubescent child who hasn't discovered the joys of masturbation yet could think would be cooler than having a father you love tremendously turn out to be a hero just like in the comic books you read. His tears of joy in a scene at the end of the film are worth the price of admission alone. In a particular scene, another child turns to him to say, ""I bet my dad could beat up your dad"", and he doesn't respond, knowing full well that it would *never* happen.
Robin Wright Penn is great in her role as a broken, pathetic woman struggling with the gradual breakdown of her marriage, for reasons that are seemingly simpler yet certainly more complex in the thought-provoking nature of what it leaves to the audience to consider. That is one of the film's greatest virtues, the fact that the audience is allowed to assess the character's virtues and actions, analyse the subtlety therein. Either that or the character was a broken, pathetic woman struggling with her sexuality, unable to admit to herself and those around her that she is a lesbian and that Bruce's shiny head fills her with revulsion. In the end she abandons the family home to join a band of lesbian terrorists who overthrow a vicious central american
CIA backed dictator, setting up their own nation of the gay and free. All-girl group-gropes for everybody! But that is another film entirely, called ""Where the Boys Aren't: Part 8"", which has nothing to do with this film at all.
The director has a vision when it comes to directing his pictures without question. It's not flashy, but the way each long shot for each scene is constructed is perfect. Every scene of dialogue has the lingering one shot camera work which worked to tie the scene up into a progressive whole. He also, continuing his ""borrowing"" from Hitchcock, has a small cameo as a suspected drug courier.
Particularly noteworthy scenes include the opening sequence, as a nervous almost-divorcee tries to put the moves on a woman during a train trip to oblivion, the amazing scene where the son tries to prove a point to his parents using a handgun, the long sequence at the train station on the quest to do some "good"
and the entire sequence that occurs towards the end in a home that's been transformed into a charnel house. In all honesty, the entire movie is filmed beautifully, but not so you're supposed to notice. There are a few holes in the plot, a few furfies and inconsistencies. Not so glaring as to ruin the film, but they are
There is the obligatory ""twist"" ending, but seriously, anyone that didn't see it coming would have to be the sort of person who would watch a porno movie and be surprised by the inevitable denouement to most scenes, "What, a cumshot? Whodda thunk it?"
I can't stress highly enough 2 important points: 1) I loved the film, I think it was one of the best of the year,
it was a better film than 6th Sense, in that it lacked the central conceit of the former script and its pretentiousness, it was sweet, sad, emotionally engaging and intellectually intriguing. I think Shyamalan is a good director, and that he's going to be a great director. No shit.
2) Do *NOT* see the film solely on my recommendation. It is a very slow film for someone who is not patient. When I walked out, I heard at least four different groups of people say that they hated the film, and that they thought it was stupid and boring. Even people with a history of comic book / graphic novel use
or some other mental illness will most likely not love the film, expecting certain conventions to be adhered to which the film never does. So don't come crying to me. I just work here :P
8 self indulgences incorporated out of 10
""You better not be jerking off to those Japanese comics"" - Comic Book Guy to Mr Glass, Unbreakable.