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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
dir-scr M Night Shyamalan
with Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson, Cherry Jones, Celia Weston, Judy Greer, Michael Pitt, Jesse Eisenberg, Jayne Atkinson
release US 30.Jul.04, UK 20.Aug.04
Dressed in the 'safe colour': Phoenix (above) and Howard.
Here's another involving dramatic thriller from Shyamalan, which of course has some surprises up its sleeve. But there's a lot more than a few good plot twists in this clever, important film.
It's 1897 in a tiny village surrounded by dark, menacing woods. A whole series of rules have evolved to help the villagers live in a kind strained coexistence with horrific creatures that prowl amongst the trees. The villagers are self-sufficient--they never need to visit the towns beyond the woods--and their life is rather idyllic. In this setting, the strong-but-silent Lucius (Phoenix) falls in love with the feisty-blind Ivy (Howard), daughter of the town's leader (Hurt). But Ivy's simpleton friend (Brody) is unknowingly stirring up something scary in the woods.
Shyamalan is an expert at creating multi-layered, insinuating, inventive storylines and characters (see also The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs), even if his films are very slowly paced. And the issues he examines here are especially strong--and extremely timely, due to the juxtaposition between the villagers and "Those We Don't Speak Of", which is frighteningly familiar in today's us-versus-them world.
Besides being a gripping story all its own, this is a moving parable about the state of the planet. And Shyamalan directs it steadily, building both the plot and the characters and digging way beneath the surface. The cinematography, sound and music are perfectly moody and textured--like Snow White meets the Blair Witch! And he edits the film with a fiendish glee (his cameo appearance near the end is mischievously witty) while keeping the characters real--we feel their desperate longing even before we know what they yearn for. Their warm respect, humour and energy are all sharply felt.
And the superb cast relishes these strong characters. Howard is especially compelling in a tricky role, while Hurt, Weaver (as Lucius' mother), Gleeson, Jones, Weston, et al, are fascinating as the secretive, jingo-spouting elders. To be honest, there isn't a big twist at the end. It's more a gentle revelation as we begin to understand the truth here. This is a powerful tale of isolationism, a desire for innocence and hope, and a fear of the unknown. Or maybe not so unknown after all.
Mike Allcock, Sunderland: "This is actually a decent film; despite the lambasting it's had by critics. It is superficial, it is obvious and it is confused, but it scores in several places, especially in the first half of the movie.
The cast is pretty strong; Phoenix is under-used but touching, Weaver as his mother only has one decent scene. But both Hurt and Howard are superb; don't mistake the rather contrived language of the settlement as showing their characters to be harsh or unfeeling. Listen to what they're saying along with how they say it and they're both likeable, gentle characters.
It's a beautifully shot film, Bryce Dallas Howard is superb despite over-acting, and it will make your eyes widen at places, not from plot twists, but at the sudden incursions of horror style brutality especially in the setting up. A period piece, mixed with a little bit of fairytale, featuring competent acting, it only fails to deliver where you expect it to. Which is no bad thing." (14.Aug.04)
Jimmy, Ohio: "I went with a couple of friends who were expecting a very scary film that violently shocked you and kept you awake at night (kind of like Sixth Sense). One would never believe how angry they were when it didn't happen and they called it one of the worst movies ever. Alas, they are very unintelligent, shallow people! This film was great, because it had a deeper story behind it. It had its scary moments, as well as shocking scenes. Deep down, however, you realize what's going on here and I think it is a reflection of our world today. I loved it how, despite the near failure of their 'experiment', the elders decided to keep the hope and continue on. I think it delivers a deeper message telling us, that despite the dark times, we can in fact continue on with our lives carrying the hope of our future generations. M Night Shylaman is a brilliant writer and director and needs to keep these films coming!" (17.Aug.04)
On working a second time round with M Night Shyamalan...
Joaquin Phoenix: It was great, especially after making Signs 18 months or so ago so. It was not like working with someone 10 years after the fact. We had developed a shorthand in Signs and that was able to come over into this. To be honest, there was also something intimidating about it. Part of what's good about working with someone that you've never worked with before is they don't know you and they are getting to know the character - they don't know the difference between what's you and what's the character. After Signs, Night and I got to know each other a lot better so he was able to tell when I was bulls**tting much easier than before - so that was a little intimidating.
On the boot camp experience...
On working with Sigourney Weaver...
On being wary when people say they have written something for you...
On good films that don't do well at the box office...
On singing and guitar playing in the upcoming Johnny Cash biopic I Walk The Line...
On the firefighting drama Ladder 49...
So you went on call to a real fire?
AUG.04, BVI LONDON
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